Seeking Refuge, Crossing Borders

by Rafael Vallejo, PhD

 As human beings, we all inhabit the earth as a shared space – The Charter of Lampedusa 2014

I begin this blog by thanking all my relations on the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishnawbe and the Neutral/Attawandaron peoples in Canada from where I live and write. 

“Seeking Refuge” is a trope that recurs in biblical literature along with displacement, deportation/exile and diaspora. Many psalms speak of chasah, seeking refuge in God, and God as “refuge” (e.g. Ps 46:1, 91:2). A core narrative in the Hebrew Bible recalls how a people fled from slavery in Egypt, a memory re-enacted in the Jewish festivals of the Pesach and Sukkot. The story of Abraham welcoming strangers under the Oaks of Mamre speaks to an ethic of hospitality and  “welcoming the stranger”. In the Christian New Testament and Coptic traditions one finds a story about Jesus, Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod (Matt. 2:13-14). The hijrah in Islam recalls the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) fleeing persecution from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE (which became the beginning of AH, Latin:“anno hegirae” or the year of the hijrah.

Researching migration in the narratives of Abrahamic religions led me to doing mission theology starting from “the figure of the refugee” (Agamben 2000:16).

Image source: https://www.christiancentury.org/article/art/refugees-la-sagrada-familia-kelly-latimore

The practice of “seeking refuge” or asylum has a long history. In today’s world, the 70 million refugees and internally displaced are the raced, classed and gendered bodies with whom we share our common humanity in God’s world. Currently the burden for caring for refugees is disproportionately borne by poorer nations with much of the work being done by faith-based non-governmental organizations.  

Laws that require nation-states to protect refugees also give them the power to discipline and punish, practices that have been described as “carceral humanitarianism” (Oliver, 2017). As social practices, these mechanisms of brutal expulsions (Sassen 2014) are enabled by relations of power. And where there is power, there is resistance (Foucault, 1978). In regard to refugees, this resistance can take many forms from protracted legal struggles, hunger strikes and collective uprisings to everyday resistance (Scott, 1984) by way of silence and subtle non-compliance using clever unobvious ways.

Refugee Studies suggest that corporate globalization driven by neo-liberal values led to the imbalance that produced today’s refugees. The war industry that sustains the economy of rich nation-states invariably creates refugees and internally displaced peoples. Nation-states use border imperialism (Walia, 2014)  to protect and preserve this global inequality while state sovereignty is the argument used to meet legal and political challenges that arise. What is being defended however are not just borders, but systems of wealth, power and privilege usually based on racial hierarchy. Border regimes are constantly being strengthened to support the agenda of capitalist expansion.

The Barmen Declaration of 1934 suggests that the state is not a God-given order. It declared as false doctrine the idea that the state “should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life.” (8.23) 

Prefiguration is the idea that our resistance ought to reflect the society we wish to live in and the social relations we seek to build. When refugees resist the powers that destroy life, they are declaring that another world is possible. They are performing parrhesia, truth-telling that speaks to the precarity and fragility of human life in conditions of “bare life” (Agamben, 1998 ). They are publicly calling out the powers that treat them as non-persons  and the migration-industrial complex of state and non-state actors that profit from their situation. 

If it is true that refugee camps in western modernity have become  the nomos of the political space in which we live (Agamben 1997:106) then our theologies of mission and migration need to explore how the outlander, the uninvited outsider, border-crosser might be seen as  a sacrament of  divine presence. Creating more equal social relations and dismantling the systems that produce refugees can be our way of participating in the Mission of God. This is an insight  from  Stranded: The impacts of US Policy on Asylum Seekers by the Jesuit Refugee Service last May 19, 2020. 

We are not good at asking questions like “Why do border controls exist?” and “Why are there borders in the first place?” or “Why is locking up people who are seeking refuge wrong?” These are difficult conversations to have in church and in the public square. 

It is from refugees and migrant workers and our indigenous sisters and brothers forced out of ancestral lands that we learn that borders are more than geography or lines on a map. All borders have a story about how they came to be ( eg. the U.S.-Mexican Border and the annexation of the Southwest in 1846). 

Interrogating the politics of  border-regimes requires deep work. The use of political metaphors framing Latinx refugees as outsiders, burdens, parasite, disease carriers is the subject of Santa Ana’s book Brown Tide Rising.  The saga  of Haitian refugees’ resistance to indefinite detention in United States’ prisons since the 1970’s led the way towards legal challenges to inhumane detention policies. They achieved landmark legal victories where the federal government was found to discriminate on the basis of race and national origin.  

Pablo Neruda captures the sentiment behind the refugees’ struggle: Podrán cortar todas las flores, pero no podrá detener la primavera.” They will be able to cut all the flowers but will not be able to stop Spring.


Rafael Vallejo started his theological career at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and San Francisco Theological Seminary and from there continued on with a Master in Theological Studies from the University of Waterloo and a Master of Divinity at the University of Toronto. From 2011-2016, he travelled extensively and studied with indigenous communities in Peru, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina as part of his PhD dissertation (2018) on “Faith Perspectives of Mexican Migrant Farm Workers in Canada”. He serves as affiliate faculty at the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion at the University of Notre Dame.

Rafael is also part of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and his pieces focus on the experience of refugees and mission. 

Chase, Kansas: Population 436

by Catherine Neelly Burton

By any standard, Chase, Kansas, is small. The 2018 census estimate put the population at 436. Of those 436 people, 13 are members of the Community Presbyterian Church which sits at the corner of Oak and Grove streets in the middle of the 186 acres that is Chase.

Photo by Kealan Burke on Unsplash

Chase was always small, but there was a time when small towns thrived. Fifty years ago, Chase had a movie theater, restaurants, and a hotel. Those things are long gone. There’s still a school and one gas station where you can get a burger. There’s also a part-time bank, a post office, a senior center, and the co-op, but you can’t buy groceries in town or see a doctor.

This scenario plays out again and again in Kansas and other parts of the country. Migration from small towns is not new. Nothing about this is remarkable. What’s remarkable is the impact that the Community Presbyterian Church continues to have.

The name of the church is important. Over 80 years ago members of three churches in Chase united and formed a community church. They wanted the structure of a denomination, and since none of the three were Presbyterian, they decided to become Presbyterian so as not to favor one of the three. The important thing was to be a community church, and in 2020 they are that more than ever.

  • A few years ago, the congregation bought the house next door to the church, gutted it, and turned it into a community food pantry where they serve about 30-40 families a month, or about 25-30% of the town. They fund this with donations, grants, and church resources.
  • Any time the school social worker needs shoes for a student, the church buys them.
  • The school social worker gives the church a list of gifts needed for children each Christmas. The church buys and delivers the presents.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The people in the church love God and love their neighbors, and they want to show God’s love. The church is fortunate to have money, not tons, but a steady source of income in addition to tithes and offerings. Years ago, a church member left some land to the church. The church gets money from an oil pipe that goes across that land and money from someone who farms on part of it.

For a long time, church members insisted on saving the money. When “the Depression era” generation gave up power to those who currently lead (now retirees), they started investing the money in the community and in keeping up their facility. They put an elevator in at their church, so the building is 100% accessible.

When a woman who grew up in Chase moved back home, she tried to start Sunday School for children. She knocked on every door in town, and no one came. Not deterred, she adapted and created a Wednesday after school program, advertised at the school, and kids came. The children are fed, they play games, do crafts, and learn Bible stories. As the elementary children aged out of the program the church started a middle school youth group on Sunday nights. The church started paying for these children to go to the presbytery camp each summer. This year 26 children and youth were registered before camp was cancelled.

How do 13 people do this? They don’t do it alone. They pull in their friends and neighbors, continuing the mission of the community church. They do worry about what will happen when they can’t continue, but for now they keep going.

I asked if they had ever had conversations with the town 12 miles away, which has a part time PCUSA pastor, about a yoked pastorate. They wondered aloud about what a pastor would do. The pulpit is filled by church members, retired pastors, and commissioned ruling elders, and they – the members and community – do everything else.

It struck me that most of the conversations I hear around rural churches circle back to a clergy shortage. Chase hasn’t had an installed pastor since the 1980’s and has done quite well. Perhaps it’s time that the broader church stop centering itself around pastors and instead center itself on mission like they’ve done in Chase, though if a pastor were fortunate enough to serve in a place like Chase, I think they’d have a lot of fun.

Postscript:
Chase, Kansas, is in Rice County, which as of June 1 has four confirmed cases of Covid-19. The people in Chase deal with problems of the world such as poverty, drug abuse, domestic violence, and lack of opportunity, but the news cycles around the pandemic and protests seem very far away. I visited Chase (with my mask – good grief, I didn’t want to be a virus carrier from the city) on May 22, before any of us knew the name George Floyd, so I can’t speak to how the news resonates there.


Catherine Neelly Burton serves as the pastor of what is most easily categorized as a ‘traditional’ PCUSA congregation, even though that era is gone. She serves at Grace Presbyterian in Wichita, KS. Grace has about 350 members and is an amazing congregation with wonderful people. She is married to John, and they have a four year old daughter and a nine year old dog.

Catherine is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and her writing focuses on rural ministry in Kansas. 

June Meeting

by Holly Haile Thompson

“Mequantash eeya-yan koose-coy-oo…” 

Rememberest, thou, me as unto our Sacred Hills…” – a Shinnecock Prayer

In Memoriam – To honor Kevin Tarrant, Hųųczii Zi, Bear Clan of the Ho-Chunk Nation of WI and Taal’wip’ hoya, Sky Clan of the Hopi Tribe of AZ.  Beloved and respected son, nephew, brother, husband, father, uncle, friend.  Traditional singer, dancer, teacher, a Keeper of Culture; our hearts are shattered.  Our dear Kevin and 340,000+ people have died during the Covid-19 outbreak.  


“Are you ready for June Meeting?”  A question asked with great anticipation among the Montaukett People, Unkechaug and Shinnecock.  My Shinnecock People have celebrated June Meeting without interruption for centuries, historically in our Sacred Shinnecock Hills, the ground upon which the Great Spirit placed us long before 1043 BCE – a date to which pottery shards attest – but a date much more recent than our DNA recalls. ‘David was doing something to someone in Israel in 1043 BCE’; we are an ancient People in our ancient Territory.

The English name June Meeting is not nearly as old as Strawberry Thanksgiving.  We offer gratitude that the good gifts of Mother Earth are ours for another year.  And June Meeting is more; it is a homecoming, a remembrance of those who have passed during the winter, a ceremony, flowers and strawberries.  June Meeting predates Christianity; our holy, primeval ritual might have been outlawed or destroyed like so many other of our God-given traditional ways were it not for the foresight of Priest Paul Cuffee’s inclusion of this traditional Strawberry Thanksgiving into the liturgical calendar.  Priest Paul, a Shinnecock Indian, or “Indian Preacher” as a roadside Historical marker states near his solitary grave. 

Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash

June Meeting is now observed the first Sunday in June at Shinnecock and the second Sunday at Unkechaug.  It is maintained to this day not because of any appreciation of our Native Culture by the European settlers who, arrogantly believed that they, alone, brought sacred beliefs to a land devoid of any Divine Spirit; these missionizers who recognize, “…no Supreme God that [they] did not name.”i

Among many Natives when the first wild strawberries are found in nature, we return thanks that this ‘first fruit’ continues to come each year.  Our June Meeting thanksgiving has continued unbroken for millennia and is, therefore, too important to allow it to be stolen away; Priest Paul wisely protected this inestimable rite.  

June’s lectionary begins with The Great Commission, an ambiguous first step as many biblical scholars are not persuaded these were Jesus own words: Go ‘hither and yon’. Soon we find admonitions to not take foreign roads and by the third Sunday in June we are inundated with legalistic equations quantifying the worth of masters over the worth of slaves, the worth of humans over the worth of wildlife, the benefit to those who welcome prophets and the virtuous over, seemingly, those who do not welcome prophets.  We might suppose that there is a transactional nature to the dispensing of Gospel Good News.     

With this sort of ‘wheeling and dealing’ it’s not surprising to uncover numerous papal bulls repeatedly declaring the Doctrine of Discovery – after all, manipulation of people and greed for riches is also absolutely biblical, albeit less dignified than a consecrated crusade: a divine quest.  Professor Mitzi J. Smith shines a light on another great “co-mission” of Church and Crown ii deeming ‘undiscovered’ lands terra nullis, empty land belonging to no one: allowing for a legal way to steal lands and a lawful way to dispatch those who may be found in those lands.  Under Church sanction, lands are stolen; people are abducted, enslaved, subjugated, mutilated, slaughtered and murdered.  To the brown and black peoples of the earth, the deadly anything-but-Good-News: “The white blue-eyed Jesus; Behold your God!… raping people and land in the name of the cloroxed Christ” iii

Baptizing in the name of love?  No, I see no evidence of love.  Those “ye” delegated and charged to go forth without benefit of gold, carrying neither staff nor provisions, might have recognized the general theme of hospitality – as they were supposed to teach hospitality – but they did not recognize the significance of the spontaneous hospitality proffered them by the Indigenous People of the Americas.  

‘Stick to the lost sheep of Israel’, and ‘go nowhere among the Gentiles’; the overwhelming message of this Jesus was to ‘love God with all that you are, then love neighbor as you love yourself…’   If Jesus had been their teacher, they utterly lack understanding as to the meaning of his life, his action, his words.    

And that today the US is sending Covid-19 infected people back to Haiti and Guatemala is heinous.  I’d venture to say that most, if not all, of those creating and implementing this cruel and deadly policy would proudly call themselves Christian; it is not a bridge too far to say that the Doctrine of Christian Discovery is not love; the theft of America’s Indigenous Peoples’ land and the theft of Africa’s Indigenous Peoples’ bodies is not love; and sending people with Covid-19 virus anywhere except to a hospital is not love; it is pretending to be Christianity.

Endnotes:

iMitzi J Smith, Resisting the Great Co-mission, Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization, Ed. Steve Heinrichs, Mennonite Church Canada, page 185

ii Ibid., 184

iiiIbid., 185


The Rev Holly Haile Thompson, DD is a blood member of the Shinnecock Nation, Long Island, NY, studied at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, IA, was graduated in 1985, ordained by the Presbytery of Western Colorado in 1986 becoming the first Native American Woman to become Minister of Word and Sacrament/Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Holly served congregations in Colorado and in New York state, is a member of several churchwide committees including the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee (REAC), the Native American Consulting Committee (NACC), and serves on the Doctrine of Discovery Speakers Bureau, all of the PCUSA denomination. Currently, Holly volunteers with the United Methodist Church’s northeast Native American Ministries Committee – supporting the UMC ongoing ‘Act of Repentance’. Holly most recently concluded her service with 1st Presbyterian Church Potsdam, NY as Transitional/Supply Pastor to explore what an “Anti-Racist Church” might look like. She works with the Poor Peoples’ Campaigns of Northern New York and of Long Island. Holly is married to Kahetakeron Harry Thompson of Akwesasne, and together they share 7 children, 16 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. “May our paths lead us to a time when we shall live together in Peace on Good Mother Earth.”

Holly is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and her writing focuses on indigenous theology and the lectionary.

Dismantling Racism and Transphobia: Leading in Love, with God Our Shepherd

by Jojo Gabuya

We shall be known by the company we keep
By the ones who circle round to tend these fires

We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap
The seeds of change, alive from deep within the earth

It is time now, it is time now that we thrive
It is time we lead ourselves into the well
It is time now, and what a time to be alive
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love

– We Shall Be Known, by Thrive Choir covering MaMuse


Yes, it is time now that all victims of racism and transphobia, especially from the Black and Brown (colorful) communities, thrive. Indeed! It is time we lead ourselves into the well, to drink and refresh ourselves with its living water, in communion and harmony with all living creatures, both human and nonhuman. Now is the time to be basically good and intrinsically loving and compassionate like we used to be, thereby being alive again on this planet. For we are all part of this earth community, whose lives are intertwined. Yes!! We are all united in our multicultural diversity, including the queer, transgender and non-binary persons, and persons with a disability (both visible and invisible).

Together with the planet and all its inhabitants, we will help build, create/paint a bright, hope-filled, and inclusive future for All! During the past two weeks, however, I had been disheartened and enraged by the brutal killings of African Americans, namely: George Floyd, Aumaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor. I have been equally furious about the murders of Black transgender persons: Muhlaysia Booker, a trans woman, and Tony McDade, a trans man. Also, another Black trans woman was viciously beaten by a violent mob of dozens of Black men, early this month. These heinous crimes against members of the Black community, including Black transgender persons, happened during this time of the current pandemic. The killings and murders of African Americans happened regularly for the past four years.

As a Filipino, who identifies as a transgender person, I came to the U.S. to pursue a Master of Divinity that would prepare me for pastoral leadership and ministry. However, I have experienced microaggressions, systemic racism, and transphobia from some white individuals, and persons of color since I first set foot in this country. My experiences of color on color violence and transphobia that some African Americans,and Asian Americans/other Asians in the U.S. perpetrated, have aggravated my traumatic experiences of anti-Asian racism. These perpetrators could have drunk the Kool-Aid that perpetuates the American dream (Or, is it a nightmare?). While I was dealing with these traumas, I wondered where is God, and why God is silent. Marty Haugen’s song, “Oh God Why Are You Silent,” aptly described my feelings and pains:

Oh God why are you silent?
I cannot hear your voice.
The proud and strong and violent
All claim you and rejoice.

You promised you would hold me
with tenderness and care
Draw near, O love, enfold me,
and ease the pain I bear.

Now lost within my grieving,
I fall and lose my way,
My fragile, faint believing
So swiftly swept away.
Oh God of pain and sorrow,
My compass and my guide,
I cannot face tomorrow
Without you by my side.

My hope lies bruised and battered,
My wounded heart is torn;
My spirit spent and shattered
by life’s relentless storm.


Hope, however, sparks in some parts of this country. Thousands of people flocked to the streets, protesting against the deaths of Floyd and other Black people. Their sustained protests have accomplished some positive changes, particularly in the operations of the police forces. If you’re on Facebook, you might have read some posts about the Stockton Police Chief agreeing to adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy on racism in the Stockton Police Department. Also, Dallas is adopting a “duty to intervene” rule that requires officers to stop other cops who are engaging in inappropriate use of force. So, God is not silent. God hears the cries of the abused, oppressed, marginalized, and persecuted. God is still speaking!

Some people’s movements and organizations in this country are also making a difference. The Asian American Christian Collaborative has encouraged its communities and other Asians in the U.S. to unite and sign the “Statement on Anti-Asian Racism in the Time of COVID-19.” This Statement denounces and calls for the immediate end of xenophobic rhetoric, hate crimes, and violence” against Asians and communities. Also, Across Frontlines (AF), an organization that Fil-Am (Filipino-American) activist Kalaya’an Mendoza founded, works and trains front line communities to protect themselves from state violence. AF cares, loves, and supports the Black community. HRC (Human Rights Campaign) Foundation, which mourns the death of Muhlaysia Booker, released a Research Brief on the Vulnerabilities of the LGBTQ Community During the COVID-19 Crisis. Self.com offers 44 Mental Health Resources for Black People Trying to Survive in this Country. Hundreds of other movements and organizations are working towards dismantling systemic racism and transphobia around this country. But, for those of us who wish to lead in love our colorful siblings, liberate them from these oppressive systems, and help them attain full human development, we can seek God who guides and shepherds us:

Shepherd me, O God
Beyond my wants
Beyond my fears
From death into life

God is my shepherd
So nothing I shall want
I rest in the meadows
Of faithfulness and love
I walk by the quiet waters
Of peace

Shepherd me, O God
Beyond my wants
Beyond my fears
From death into life

Gently You raise me
And heal my weary soul
You lead me by pathways
Of righteousness and truth
My spirit shall sing
The music of Your Name

Shepherd me, O God
Beyond my wants
Beyond my fears
From death into life

Though I should wander
The valley of death
I fear no evil
For You are at my side

– Shepherd Me, O God, by Marty Haugen

Amen and Ashe.


Jojo is soon to receive their M.Div from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. Before coming to California in 2016, they worked with the United Nations Development Programmes, as Regional Coordinator for its Bottom-up Budgeting Project in Mindanao, Philippines. Prior to this, they worked as VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) Volunteer, as Results-based Management Advisor for the Ministry of Gender in Zambia, Southern Africa.

Jojo is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort, and their writing focuses on how Jesus would respond to the racism, xenophobia, microaggressions, and gender. 

The Suffering that Lingers

(Note: Some identifying details of those mentioned in this piece have been changed to protect their privacy.)

by Holly Clark Porter

I remember the first murder victim whose body and family I helped care for after her death.

While working for a funeral home, you learn that people die constantly. I won’t say you “get used to it”, because that isn’t quite right. You become familiar to the oddness, the smells, the sadness. You get comfortable. You’re comfortable with death at 10:00am or 3:00am. You’re comfortable because most of the time, the bodies who you take into your care are bodies ravaged by age or sickness. You can see that their body needed to die. As a pastor, it was easy to quote the Christian commendation and say in my head, “they rest from their labor, their suffering has ended, and they have found peace.”

But then there are deaths, faces, families, for whom those words were empty, empty to the family, but also empty to me, even though my theology, my faith tells me better. Sometimes, I’m not even sure I understand the commendation until I have heard and taken on the charge and benediction.

As I looked at this young woman, maybe 20 years old, on our embalming table, I didn’t know from what she rested. Her body hadn’t been suffering. She was an innocent victim of a gas station robbery. And, I looked in disbelief at her body, her body which seemed so normal, so healthy. Her face, perfect. Her face looked just like the pictures her family brought us; a graduation party and hanging out at Rehoboth Beach, smiling big. Other than the two marks in her torso made by a knife, her body didn’t look like it needed to rest.

Her suffering ended. But her suffering also lingered.

I cannot help but think of the funeral home who will take George Floyd’s body into their care—the people who will wash his body, stitch up his skin, who will put makeup on his bruising, and try to give his family and friends a glimpse of the life now taken. I wonder if they will step back and look at Mr. Floyd’s well-maintained muscles and striking jawline and wonder why he had to die.

His suffering ended. But his suffering also lingers.

Photo source: https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2020/05/30/wilmington-protests-george-floyd-turn-violent-night/5295496002/

In the lingering suffering, we have commended him with protests and signs of “I can’t breathe” and anger and sermons and posts—a commendation not everyone is sure what to do with. But, now it’s time we give power and understanding to the commendation by hearing our charge and our benediction.

One of our very own youth at my church, a 15 year old young man, gave me that charge and benediction. With anger, questions, yearning, he took to Instagram decrying the horrific murder of George Floyd and he lifted up so many other names of black people who have died at the hands of racism, but what he said that called to me was: “someone please.” “please” he said over and over. “Please someone.”

In this pandemic caused by Covid, we have been willing to completely change the way we do everything. In a matter of months, we have changed our eating habits, how we shop, re-imagined our rituals, we’ve taken Communion with Dr. Pepper and Doritos, and we were willing to endure a tanked economy all for the sake of people’s lives.

We’ve had years, decades, centuries to change the virus of racism and yet, because it’s uncomfortable or maybe unimaginable or too scary or there’s too much risk or there’s too many unknowns, we’ve just let it infect every cell in our social bodies.

In my more cynical moments, I think we’ve adapted so quickly to the Corona virus because “all lives matter” and this virus threatens the lives of all people, white people, black people, Asians, but that racism only threatens the lives of people of color. In my more whole, more realistic moments, I think it’s because you can’t put a mask on racism or socially distance ourselves from prejudice language and hope to end racism. It’s more difficult than that. It isn’t as simple as choosing to wash your hands; it’s choosing to notice the things we don’t notice. It’s choosing to hear the stories of people of color. It’s choosing to realize your heart just leaped because a black man is jogging behind you. It’s choosing to wonder why white people names are seen as normal and black people names are seen as strange. It’s choosing to notice who fills our TV screens, our town halls, our best schools.

Someone, please. Let us hear this charge to put an understanding around the difficult commendation that often ended in looting. Let us hear this charge as a way to grapple with that which we can only see as destruction instead of a release. Let us hear this charge and take it up with God who calls us, Jesus who walks with us, and the Holy Spirit who gives us breath so that before breath gets taken, we are the someone’s who act when we hear “please.”

And until all lives really do matter, may we take on the labor, the work, and suffering from which George Floyd rests.

(Author’s note: As a queer, white woman I know some forms of discrimination, but it pales in comparison to systemic, prolonged racism. Rather than write about Pride for June’s Pride celebrations, I felt it was necessary to continue to write about black lives. I hope that my words help rather than harm. May we continue to see the stories that are ignored, stories about black trans lives, stories about queer POC, stories that don’t make the news and may we never forget how each story is a part of our story, if we bother to hear them.)


The Reverend Holly Clark-Porter is an irreverent revered who adores people, even the annoying ones. In her work, she hopes to bring people back to Church by uplifting the importance of a joyful community, the strength of working together for justice, and by giving voice to the relevancy of faithful love over hate and destruction. She has a passion for preaching, writing, and nerdy church things. Holly received her B.A. in English at Schreiner University and her M.Div from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where she was a recipient of the Charles L. King Preaching Award and a member of the Scotch Council. She has served as pastor of Big Gay Church and Calvary Presbyterian, both of Wilmington, DE. She was also a funeral director and funeral chaplain at McCrery & Harra Funeral Homes (DE). Holly and her wife, The Reverend Kaci Clark-Porter, recently moved from Delaware to El Paso, Texas, where they serve as Co-Pastors of Grace Presbyterian. They love camping, travelling the world in search of food and wine, and spoiling their pitbull, Hazel.

Holly is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and her writing focuses on how death shows up in the life of faith.

The SHIFT: It’s Time to Make That Change

by Freda Marie S. Brown

I was both mad and sad when I first became aware of the public murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. “Here we go again, I thought. No justice for injustice, no rest for the weary; how long must we endure this, O Lord, how long?” I am quite aware of the cries of my ancestral lineage that goes back almost 400 years. I will never get over the fact that THIS, is the place at which America has arrived; the place where her enduring ethos of white supremacy and racist hatred can now be seen and called what it is in the light of day. For most of the people who look like me, we have known all along the insidious cancer that has fed upon this soil. As an African-American Episcopal priest and mom I will NEVER get over the fact that the list of names has grown longer and not shorter in the past 4 or 5 years. Say their names: Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor. Four-hundred years and this s—continues? My heart literally hurts.

Besides all of this, I have been unable to get over the fact that the vast majority of my non-POC “brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus” in the Church have been reticent to speak with a single voice about this enormous and ongoing SIN of racism in America. Because I love Jesus Christ and his body deeply on this planet, I have a bone to pick with the Church in its whiteness. I am both mad and sad.

Governments come and go, but the Kin(g)dom of God—that governance which we claim rules forever— is given nary a thought in the minds and hearts of many of you professing Christians. Your submission to the ONE whom we call GOD is often lower than the recovering alcoholics to their higher power of the Big Book. It is simply amazing. Could this be because you are using a limited map of reality, one that no longer fits the current state of growing in spiritual (not necessarily, religious) awareness?

Albert Einstein is famously quoted to have said, “the mind that got us here, will not be the mind that gets us out.” You need a BIG PARADIGM SHIFT; indeed, we all do. A new cosmology is required to accommodate the work of the Holy Spirit at this time in creation. Along with that new map of reality, comes the practice of continuing repentance, instead of some one-shot deal that you have played with oh, these many years. The old mechanistic, predictive, hierarchical, anthropocentric, competitive cosmology will no longer do. It is time for new wine in new wine skins. A dynamic state of self-awareness, mindfulness, and readiness to change must take root within you.

The overwhelming masculine energies of the ages that have given us our current state of affairs, is no longer holding. Witness the state of the nation and of the world.

I want to be clear in my use of the term “masculine energy” though, as opposed to males or men. I am a woman who loves men. No problem there. But the grip of patriarchy has devasted both the world and the Church. For me, the Church’s influence has often been in death-dealing ways that fail to reflect the LIFE of Christ so that others want to live that life. Besides males and females are comprised of both masculine and feminine energies. The imbalance in these energies is expressed in the woundedness, anger, and outright hatred we are observing all around us and in the suffering of oh, so many. I often wonder, “do non-POC Christians really believe a ‘new life’ in Christ exists? No? Is that why so many of them can easily accept the status quo?”

The rise of compassion, collaboration, mercy, and kindness, generosity, and hopefulness are all feminine energies. (Again, not female) and are needed to balance the overly masculine-energized reality that has been created—primarily by you, I am sad to say. You have forgotten who you are.

Repentance, like conversion, is a returning repeatedly to Holy Mystery, whom we call GOD. I commend to you Jim Wallis’ very timely book, A CALL TO CONVERSION, written more than 30 years ago. It is the only way the mind of Christ might truly be formed in ALL of us. I am sorry to inform you that the concept of autonomy has no place in the Kin(g)dom of God. Let me know if you find it in the bible, please. We can remain in a state of continuing repentance by asking the Holy Spirit (with thanksgiving) for it. We pray for all sorts of things. Why not something that really matters?
The entire world, but America in particular, is on a highly desirable path of human evolution. So, discreetly discern when you judge what your eyes are seeing, or your ears are hearing. Human evolution is the telos for which we, POC and non-POC were all created; to be a paradise for the Beloved Community.

That evolution will hurt and be inconvenient to you. It will require the death of many dreams, hopes and most certainly ideologies. But it will not kill you; not if we hold faithfully to the truth of Ultimate Reality—that we are already ONE. As much as you like to feel comfortable and hate being inconvenienced, the Church in America can no longer remain as it is and go with G-D. G-D is on the move. LIFE is dynamic and changes abound. It is time for divinization. It is time to take on Christ-consciousness for the sake of the world.

I and so many other siblings of color can no longer tolerate your apathy, Church. Each one of us must become the change we wish to see in the world. We need you to step up. God grant you the grace to receive this gift and to live into it with us.


The Rev. Freda Marie Brown is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland currently serving as Associate Rector at The Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore. She formerly served as the Executive Director of St. Vincent’s House in Galveston, a 501(c)3 non-profit and Jubilee Ministry of the Diocese of Texas. Prior to coming to the Diocese of Texas, she was the Associate Rector at the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in the Diocese of Dallas. She received her undergraduate degree from Xavier University of Louisiana and was employed as a clinical laboratory director for 21 years at St. Paul Medical Center in Dallas before saying “yes” to God’s call to be ordained priest in His Church. She earned a Master of Theological Studies from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, Dallas and a Master of Arts in Religion (with a concentration in Anglican Studies) from the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX. For 7 years she served as a Palliative Care chaplain in hospice and hospital settings and has spent many hours serving the dying and those who love them.

She loves her work among God’s people and is constantly amazed by the many disguises of Jesus Christ —especially among the marginalized. She enjoys yoga, gardening, cooking, hiking, reading, writing, and listening to jazz. She loves good food, good wine, and good conversation. She is Crystal’s Mom.

Freda is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and her writing focuses on the intersectionality of Christian spirituality with what may commonly be called energetics or specifically energy medicine.

From My Neighborhood in Minneapolis

by Heidi Vardeman

I am writing this from my home in Minneapolis, half a mile from the Third Precinct police station that burned on Tuesday night and a block from a neighborhood bar that is still smoldering.  Military helicopters fly close overhead.  The air smells of tear gas and smoke. Images swirl in my head.  Guilt weighs heavily on my heart.   I worry about where we go from here.  

Images, sounds, smells—Day #1 The horrible video of George Floyd’s murder.  His black body face down on the pavement, his neck crushed by a white cop’s knee.  For eight minutes and 46 seconds. The policeman stares at the camera with a terrifying calm. Other cops press down on his body.  We watch George Floyd die. 

Day #2:   The Third Precinct building goes up in fire. Protesters heave shopping carts into the conflagration.  The crowd chants, “No justice.  No peace.” Over and over again.  Sirens, shouts, smoke, teargas, gunshots. 

Day #3:   Looted buildings, including a public library, health clinic, charter school, a Wendy’s and a Target, two grocery stores, countless small minority-owned businesses on Lake Street.   Sirens and helicopters. 

Day #4: In the daytime, people wearing masks walk by our house with brooms and garbage cans to help with the cleanup.  Late at night a car without license plates drives slowly down the same street. White supremacist websites have called for people to come to Minneapolis.

Feelings–I am tired, teary and have a strong sense of guilt. I and my fellow white Minneapolitans know that the Minneapolis Police Department is racist. We have known for years that there are white supremacist elements in the police, but since it did not inconvenience us, we did little if anything at all.  Despite Minneapolis’ liberal reputation and self-congratulatory self-image, there is a terrible racial gap in education, health care and home ownership. My neighbor, who is African-American and about my age, tells me he is bone weary of this bullshit that has gone on and on and on.

As my emotions swirl about, today I recognize a new element in the mix of things: a feeling of fear.  Late last night I watched a car stripped of license plates drive slowly down my street. Authorities tell us that bottles with accelerant are being stashed in alleys in order to set fires.  As I note this feeling of fear for  my personal safety, I wonder:  is this how my black and brown neighbors feel whenever the police drive slowly down their streets? 

Where do we go from here?  One police officer has been  arrested and charged with the murder of George Floyd, but what of the others?   No justice, no peace: no peace in the irenic sense of peace and quiet nor in the biblical sense of justice and well-being.  Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  Today we weep over Minneapolis.  

I don’t know where we go from here, but I do know that we can begin to make a start with prayer.  

Gracious God, help us white people in Minneapolis to go beyond superficial clean ups and food drives to pause, to ponder, to examine our political and economic structures and our complicity in their brutality and inequality.  Help us not to be distracted by fear for our personal safety and selfish interests, for you are our refuge and strength, our very present help in trouble.  Keep us focused on what started this mess:  the sin of racism in both its systemic and individual manifestations.  Deliver us from our blindness to white privilege and our easy toleration of discrimination and inequality. Wipe us clean of our sin so that we may be made fresh and new—today, and then again tomorrow, and again and again. we have left undone so many things that we ought to have done.  Ever cognizant that we will again fall into easy racism, strengthen us in our endeavors, inspire us with your spirit and gird us with your hope. 

Forgive us for our complicity in the death of George Floyd and the murderous brutality of the Minneapolis police.  

In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.

Amen. 


Over the course of her 40+ years in ministry, Heidi Vardeman has served Latino, African-American, and white congregations in the Northeast, South, and Midwest, ranging widely in size and economic standing. She has also done faith-based justice work both in D.C. where she was a national executive for United Methodists lobbying for peace during the Reagan administration and in Tampa, where she helped found the Tampa AIDS Network during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Additionally, she has done doctoral work both in speech communications and theology. She currently serves a tiny church in the suburbs of Minneapolis that nearly closed due to conflict prior to her arrival. The grandmother of three and the mother of two grown daughters, Heidi lives with her husband Frank and his service dog Zest in a diverse urban neighborhood of Minneapolis in a very old house that is always falling apart. Her hair is often highlighted with grout, plumbers putty or paint.

Heidi is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort, and her writing generally focuses on how our religious tradition (Reformed Christianity) is relevant in a postmodern/post-Constantinian world. 

Let’s Talk About that Asian Cop in the George Floyd Video

by Reverend Chris Dela Cruz

In the video depicting a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, slamming his knee onto George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, there is another officer prominently featured in a “supporting” role.

Officer Tou Thao, who had previously been the subject of six complaints with no discipline including an excessive force lawsuit resulting in a $25,000 city payout, casually guarded the scene like a watchman, projecting toughness and carelessness for a situation that warranted neither. He snarked “don’t do drugs, kids” to onlookers pleading for a man crying out “I can’t breathe.” He yelled and “kept order” while people, including an off-duty official, tried to reason with him to do something. Anything.

Photo by Josh Hild via Unsplash

Tou Thao, an Asian American from the Hmong community, just stood there, keeping his post, while a white cop literally was shoving the force of the state onto a black man. As a symbol of Asian Americans complicit in taking advantage of white supremacy as a sidekick, like the Asian man in the auction in Get Out, it was almost too on the nose. 

…..

Like many Asian Americans growing up, I had my own “go back to your country” moment. Specifically, I remember as a child walking in on my father recounting how someone told him to “go back to your third world country” to him. This is one of the ways white supremacy in American forever foreign-izes Asian Americans.  And like many other Asian Americans, I as a child, without understanding fully the larger systemic structures at play, internalized this otherness which led to self-hate. Filipinx hip-hop artist Ruby Ibarra raps about forever feeling like she’s in the “background,” her mom telling her to not stay in the sun too long to get tan. Last Jedi-star Kelly Marie Tran recounts how the vicious racist attacks she experienced online reinforced what she always felt about herself growing up.

“The same society that taught some people they were heroes, saviors, inheritors of the Manifest Destiny ideal, taught me I existed only in the background of their stories, doing their nails, diagnosing their illnesses, supporting their love interests — and perhaps the most damaging — waiting for them to rescue me,” she said. “And for a long time, I believed them.”

The Asian American experience has a lot of pain and struggle, and we rightly should call out white supremacy’s systemic racism against Asians. But there’s another uglier side to our collective experience.

I remember growing up in the Northeastern suburbs (important to note, we are more of a diaspora here, whereas in California there are larger populations that I suspect had many different experiences than mine). Many of us semi-kiddingly called ourselves coconuts – brown on the outside, white on the inside – or Twinkees – yellow on the outside, white on… you get the idea. I internalized as a child that the best way out of other-ness was to ally with and even become more “white.” If I performed enough acceptability to whiteness, then I would belong. Asian Americans whose accents were too thick and food tastes too smelly were labeled Fresh Off the Boat or FOBs  – this was to each other. I still remember my Lola – grandmother in Tagalog – staying with our family during my middle school years, and having this internalized rage at her, her accented exchange of the “P” sound for “F,” her lack of knowledge in basic American cultural milestones, her mere presence an embarrassment to friends who came over and to see that I was not fully like them. (Lola, God bless you in heaven, I hope you forgive me.)

I wish this were just the biographical story of one hurt but foolish child, but unfortunately there are aspects of this baked into parts of the modern Asian American story. It should be noted that late 19th/early 20th century Asian Americans had a much different experience. Just to highlight my own culture, events like mobs of white people rioting and hunting down Filipinos and burned down homes in the 1930 Watsonville riots and of course the mass murder and colonization of the Philippines led to explicit race-solidarity movements like Filipinx workers organized with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

But in the last few decades, many Asian-Americans have embraced the “model minority” myth as their ticket to white acceptance. See, we’re the good minorities, we work hard, and now we’re successful! We earned our spot here! 

Of course, none of this is an accident. The “model minority” myth was created by white America self-selecting highly skilled Asian immigrants as Cold War-era propaganda to squash calls for equality for black Americans – these minorities can do it, why can’t you? Even stereotypes like Asian men being sexually deficient were products of white men spreading false rumors after feeling threatened by Chinese and Filipino immigrant men connecting with white women – the same men whom America used to build its railroads and pick its fruit in the late 19th and early 20th century. 

But whatever its origins, many of us have embraced white-adjacency as our ticket to acceptance, at the expense of solidarity with the struggles of other people of color. Asian-Americans have been prominent in movements such as stopping affirmative action in colleges and protesting high school test reform. An alarming amount of Asian-Americans rail against “illegal immigration” since they “did it the right way,” and while various polls conflict as to the amount of support Asian Americans supported Trump, Filipino-Americans in particular seem to be near the top of Asian-American groups that have a significant minority of them supporting the man who called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers.

Is it no wonder that other people of color question our commitment to justice? When Hot 97 radio host Ebro recently re-posted an Asian solidarity post form DJ Franzen, I scrolled as I saw responses such as “They always been subservient to white man, they don’t care about us,” “Asians identify as white now,” “most Asian groups subscribe to white supremacy, period,” and “I won’t hold my breath waiting on them to be allies.” 

Now that we have been targeted with racism in this COVID-19 crisis, will we realize once and for all how futile it is thinking that standing guard for white supremacy and chasing white acceptance and “American-ness” will give us anything? In an article by Jennifer Lee and Monika Yadav, they said, “The president’s attribution of the coronavirus to China, and the virulent attacks against Asian Americans show how easily they can fall on “the wrong side” of America’s nativist fault line. Racial mobility is no guard against anti-Asian prejudice.”

I know there are many Asian-Americans and organizations organizing in their allyship for the black community, and perhaps my words serve just as much confessional as it is cry to action. And all non-Asian-American readers need to know that the Asian-American experience is one of the most diverse merely by the sheer size and number of Asian countries represented, and the prominence of relatively wealthy Asian-Americans in prominent professions such as doctors, accountants, and tech workers obscures the large amount of poverty in often refugee communities that make up a significant yet forgotten portion of the population.

But for every Asian-American in this country in this time, we are confronted with a stark choice. Will we pull up for black America and see the collective struggle of all people of color as our own, including accepting our relatively privileged place in it? Or will we just keep our post and guard white supremacy, hoping to lap up the crumbs of white acceptance? Will we just stand there?


Reverend Chris Dela Cruz is the Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, a diverse, immigrant Queens, NYC congregation with over 30+ nations represented. His role includes building a co-working space for young adult entrepreneurs, coordinating kids and family ministries, and helping in community organizing efforts. He has written for Next Church, Presbyterian Outlook, and other outlets. Prior to being an ordained pastor, he was a journalist for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

Chris writes about the intersection of faith, cultural trends, and American life.

Proximity is Key

by Rob Hammock

At a time of Pentecost when we welcome the coming of the Holy Spirit as a flame, I am drawn back to an early life lesson that sparked me growing up on the south side of Chicago.

Like a large number of my fellow south-siders, I loved the game of basketball. This was the early 1980s in the pre-Michael Jordan era. We loved the game and played it before half of the city jumped on the Air Jordan bandwagon. My basketball temple was the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club.

“The Club” is where I first learned the game. Our coaches were two adult African American brothers, and they faithfully taught me how to dribble, shoot, rebound, and play defense. My love of the game was nurtured on that concrete gym floor with the all-wooden backboards. However, the greater education that began during my time at “The Club” was to begin to understand my privilege.

Hyde Park was one of the more diverse neighborhoods in the city. My elementary school was approximately 50% white and 50% black. However, in all of my years playing basketball with The Club, I never remember having more than 2 other white teammates. And for a number of years, I was the only one. But not only would I be the only white boy on the team, I would be the only white boy in our entire league! Being this oddity would result in chants from opposing teams of: “Larry Bird! Larry Bird is in the house!”

Most of our games in our league were played at The Club, our home court, regardless of which teams were playing. However, we would make the occasional road trip. And this time, when I was 14 years old, we were headed to ALC – the Abraham Lincoln Center.

ALC was less than 2 miles north of “The Club”. The neighborhood was vastly different. Not only was I likely to be the only white kid in the gym that day, I was quite likely the only white kid within a mile of it. There were times when playing at our regular venue that I felt a bit like a fish out of water, but that was at least our home court. On this day I was in a whole different ocean.

ALC was across the street from the El Rukn “Mosque”. This building would not be confused with any typical house of worship. This was the headquarters of one of the most notorious street gangs in the city. Along with the Disciples, Vice Lords, and Latin Kings, the El Rukns were to be feared. Walking around the streets on the south side, part of everyday life was to learn when to recognize different gangs and know which colors or hats you could or couldn’t wear, and where you could or couldn’t walk. It was anxiety-producing to try and keep straight where you could and couldn’t go in your own neighborhood, but that anxiety ratcheted up when you were outside of your normal territory. I was nervous to play at ALC. But it wasn’t just me. Our entire team was nervous and scared.

We piled in the van together and left “The Club” to make the rather short drive. We were joking about the game and where we were headed. Nervous laughter emanated from Jerry, Pierre, and “Speedy”. We passed the El Rukn Mosque, eyes wide open from all of us, and our van pulled into park.

I had been at the back of the van, but everyone was now pushing me out the door to be the first person off. Now, I’m thinking, I’m the only white kid anywhere near here, and I’m way out of my element. I’m scared, and I don’t want to be the first kid off of the van. I stop at the entrance of the side double-doors and look back and ask, “Why do I have to be the first one off?”

Speedy pipes up, “Man, if anything happens to you, at least the cops will show up!”

A bit stunned by the bluntness, I took a deep breath, looked at my teammates on the van, turned around, and stepped off the van to head into the gym.

I knew Speedy’s comment was not some throw away joke of a fellow teenager but street-hardened wisdom. I began understanding what white supremacy meant. It meant living with the knowledge that the lives of a dozen black boys weren’t worth as much as that of one white kid.

To my white siblings, as we once again have the unfortunate opportunity to reflect on the pernicious power of white supremacy in the United States, as we reflect on the specific injustices done to Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, what are we willing to do to learn about the historic systems preceding their deaths? Make no mistake, these are but symptomatic events. Protesting their deaths is worthwhile, but what is the long slow work of truly good news that we are willing to undertake so that we can understand and empathize as best as possible? And then, equipped with that knowledge and empathy, how will we act? Micah 6:8 asks us “to do justice”, not just occasionally talk about it so we can feel good until the discomfort goes away. In the words of Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, what are we willing to do to get proximate?

For my own journey, my proximity began with teammates that allowed me to build relationships. So, when I later ventured forth on a career path to help enable community development and affordable housing, it wasn’t just an exercise of doing mission and justice work for others. I carried along their faces to live into a vision of solidarity and love with my friends. I need this proximity to ground me and keep me humble. We need to each find our places of proximity so we can be willing to humbly learn and serve.


Robert Hammock recently rolled off of the Session after a 3-year term at Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. Although trained at Princeton Theological Seminary (MDIV), the last 20 years of his career have been focused on affordable housing and community development efforts, primarily in urban contexts. He remains active in a leadership role through his church’s development of affordable housing through the re-purposing of part of its campus.

Rob is also a part of the NEXT Church blogging cohort, and his writing focuses on faith, ministry, and community development.