The SHIFT: Exercises in Futility

by Freda Marie S. Brown

Since COVID-19’s appearance and the shut-down afterwards, I realized that life wouldn’t be the same for the country (on a larger scale) or for myself (on a smaller one). It has taken me SO long to really understand that the ways in which I did things pre-COVID no longer work for me now. For example, pre-COVID meant always looking at the clock. Everything was set according to a time…to go here…to go there…to do this or that. Post-COVID, time has meant little if anything since most of my days are spent at home alone.

Because of this I have had to attend to my own inner clock and establish new routines that I would not have considered earlier. When COVID first hit, I tried meditating twice a day and generally picking up more of my spiritual disciplines that had been lost along the way…like fasting or praying the rosary. What I discovered was that those spiritual activities ALONE were n ot giving me the inner peace that I thought I would find nor the connection to GOD that I was seeking for. The things I did to pass the time for COVID while sheltering in place in March and April, no longer served me when June and July hit. But August? August has been quite the eye-opener.

Being awakened in the wee hours of the morning and listening to the SILENCE during those times informed me that something more meaningful was at stake in my way of living right now that might lead into forever. In order for me to bloom and blossom where I am planted…at home the majority of the time…on ZOOM or otherwise, I had to take on new routines that gave preferential treatment to my energetic being or who I am at my core…my essence.

We often speak of being body, mind, and soul but we seldom take the time to consider the ramifications of the complexity of our human makeup. My soul, spirit, or energetic essence needed attention like my mind and body did and the usual ways of living were exercises in futility for they brought me neither the inner peace I longed for nor the creative answers I sought —and they were many. I sought GOD (the Universe or Cosmos) about becoming my “best self” during this time of mayhem. There was plenty of the not-so-good self to go around it seemed. The worse self of us all was being played out across both traditional and social media platforms.

When the Apostle Paul was in prison (writing) righting his letter to the Romans, he specifically reminded them that they were to expect nothing less than transformation from an old way of being, to a new way of being who they truly were— self-identified in the spirit and energy of Jesus the Christ. He instructed them to seek a mind-renewal which I take to mean a new way of thinking that would carry them further on the Jesus-journey than their present way of thinking. As a matter of fact, that old way of thinking is somehow a part of the old creation that is passing away, he said.

It is pretty apparent that the global uprising for which the death of George Floyd was a catalyst is NOT just about George Floyd, but about systems or ways-of-being that no longer serve most humanity. This certainly can be said for the USA, where for 400+ years lives of people of African descent have been considered somehow less than those lives of European descent. The fact that the BLM movement is so controversial to many in America, is a testament to the continuing legacy of white supremacy, and yet such a way of thinking is not life-giving to those who hold it as well as those for whom it is held against.

Enter a new way of thinking: What if we really are spiritual beings embodied in a physical reality? What if that leaves our physical reality…as just that…physical with its resulting limitations. What if we choose to believe quantum physicists who say the nature of reality is created every moment by observation and that each moment contains a myriad of possibilities to manifest in the physical dimension of reality? And what if the image and likeness of GOD which Christians contend is the basis of humanity’s creation by its Creator, is to be found on this quantum level of reality, hidden as it were as a core of LIGHT? GOD as our traditional Christian mystics have spoken often — within us.

Photo by Federico Beccari on Unsplash

These kinds of questions give an entirely new meaning to what life IS as well as what it IS NOT. It certainly explains the global spirit of protest against racial injustice and government impunity. Suddenly, I could sense answers welling up out of the depths to questions we wrestle with at this time and in the place we now live. Questions about law enforcement reform, criminal justice reform, education, and racism, healthcare, immigration, and economic reforms, among others. And instead of more of the same, with the questions came creative possibilities for change.

I have no doubt at this time, having experienced only a tiny portion of my energetic essence, that a great deal of power exists within each one of us to be harbingers of more power and goodness, indeed more answers, than we can imagine. But these new ways will not arrive if we are living in the current paradigm of cause and effect and duality. This perspective is no longer useful to us for the level of wisdom and insight required in these times or the times to come. This is especially true for Christians because the government of GOD (Kin(g)dom of God) that Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed consisted of a whole new reality in which GOD, who is Spirit, manifests in this physical reality as well as beyond it.

Do we even believe that a new creation—namely we people of GOD—is possible? Do we believe the good news of Emmanuel (God-with-us)? Do we want to be changed? Are we willing to let go of who we think we are for who we are created-to-be? We are a people created to desire justice, peace, and right relationships with all of creation as we all live in the DIVINE who simultaneously lives in us?

When we take the risk to think anew of I AM as Spirit first and then embodied in and reflected throughout the rest of creation (which is quite biblical by the way), perhaps we can ask better questions with more creativity and just answers. Questions like why can’t we live with just enough for ALL instead of some hoarding most of the earth’s resources from most of earth’s peoples? I am convinced that when we begin to seek answers to such a question, we will find the Western Church on a new path more in alignment with its Founder instead of the empire which is where it has stood lo these many years.

If we continue to do what we have always done, thinking the same thought patterns, habituated in our usual ways of being and doing, we cannot possibly expect to experience life differently. The way of life for so many continue to be stratified along economic, racial, and social justice lines. But this is the physical reality we have created. Only by rising above it can we be healed of the desire to live in a cesspool of darkness and lowered expectations for life. And, yes, we must desire it for it is what we ourselves have made. If we want more and better…we must do something differently. We must awaken from our centuries old sleep of ignorance to a larger truth. The soul of future generations depends upon it. Without a new mind—all effort are simply exercises in futility.

Each one of us truly lives life as an interconnected whole although we may not be aware. Our lack of insight does not change the reality of even one person making a difference. Your change might be just the what another needs to see to do likewise. As Mahatma Gandhi has been said to have stated: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Our Holy writings teach us how. Shall we dare follow our Lord in surrender to death of the old way of living for a brand-new life in this physical reality? I sure hope so.


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.

Symbolic Reckoning

by Rob Hammock

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, … think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8

As the 4th of July passes, I have been thinking about the challenges we face in the United States – COVID-19, racial justice, divisive politics, and historical memory. I am thinking about my great-great grandfather.

Sergeant Major Marion Hill Fitzpatrick died 155 years ago, but through the dedication of my great uncle, our family has a collection of letters that he wrote to his wife during the Civil War –  over 170 pages written from 1862 through 1865. Reading them, I hear the voice of a man who loved his wife, loved his son, and desired to be of service to God. Consistently, I am struck by his humility before God. He also loved his country. In one of his last letters, written in March 1865, shortly before his death from battle: “Now is the time for all to rally around the standard of our Country and let us route Sherman and I firmly believe that peace will soon follow.” (Fitzpatrick 1976) The “Country” is the Confederate States of America. As with the large majority of my ancestors, Sgt. Major Fitzpatrick was a proud Georgian. Growing up, I learned to cherish this personal, intimate look into life along the battlefield while pining for home.

Photo by Rick Lobs on Unsplash

I have lived with what I have thought of as the “honorable” memory of my great-great grandfather. And yet I was also honored to be baptized at a sister Black Baptist church as ours had no baptistry. Despite growing up in Chicago as one of the few “Yanks” in the family, living into this tension never posed that great of a challenge. My immediate family was the only part of the family in Chicago and not in Georgia. And few of my Chicago friends and classmates cared much for Civil War history. The tension changed when I went south for school. What I learned then was that the notion of the Civil War as “The Lost Cause” or “War of Northern Aggression” was not dead. 

It has been over 30 years since I first moved south, and I still find myself fighting to reconcile my family heritage. I am slow to judge my great-great grandfather in his time, because I don’t know that I would have chosen any differently to support the Confederacy. It is quite easy to imagine myself an anti-slavery abolitionist a century and a half removed. However, knowing my own conflict averse nature, I’m afraid I would not have been so brave. I am not able to insert myself in those ancestral shoes to know how I would have acted.

There may have indeed been honorable and pleasing parts of my forbear’s conduct on a personal level. But I also know that to think on things that are true and just, I cannot but question the Confederate legacy in my lived present. During my younger years, I endured educational attempts to justify The Lost Cause by its focus on states’ rights. This is not an untrue notion, but it is a wholly inadequate portrayal when the overwhelming evidence points to a primary focus of those states’ rights being the ability to continue or expand slavery. The Articles of Secession were not part of my high school history classes, but had they been, I would have been quickly disabused of the notion that slavery was not a central issue. Yet, more insidious than the question of slavery was the blatantly clear white supremacy. 

In Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’ now infamously named “Cornerstone Speech” delivered in March 1861, one month before the beginning of the war, he comments on the error of the U.S. Constitution and its call for equality of all men:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” (Stephens 1861)

The legacy of a post-Civil War south through Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era reinforces that Stephens’ words did not die when Lee surrendered. As the next 100 years attested, slavery may have been abolished, but the notion of white supremacy remained intractable. And it has not died yet.

The flag of the Country under which my great-great grandfather marched and fought is one inexorably linked to white supremacy. To clamor for the memory of this time as one of “heritage, not hate” is to be blinded by willful misremembrance. And this faulty memory is not limited to Confederate standards. When we hearken back to the Declaration of Independence and its “self-evident” truth that “all men were created equal” (Jefferson 1776), we now proclaim that this was but a partial truth as it only applied to white men. We must acknowledge that the Declaration, profound for its time, was a limited, aspirational document. 

It is high past time to be reformed to the vision that all are God’s beloved children and equal in God’s eyes. If our old standards and guides are built on lies and half-truths, then the time has come to reexamine and reimagine them. If we don’t, then they have become nothing more than idols deserving to be thrown down as much as any golden calf. (Exodus 32) As for my great-great grandfather, if he was alive today, I pray that his spirit of humility would allow his eyes to be opened to see the damage done in the name of Christ by the standard of the Confederacy, and that he would live into a true love of his neighbors, especially the Black ones.


Postscript. For those who may be wrestling with their own challenges of how to reconcile Southern history and process its impact after having been steeped in its mythology, I recommend the work of my friend, Pete Candler, and his website, A Deeper South. 

From his blog, “Closing Time in America” in April:

“If nothing else, my experiences attempting to reckon with Southern history and culture and my own place in it have taught me how those contradictions can co-exist with one another truthfully, and not without hope. It is not a question of reconciling contradictions between the American ideal and the American reality; it is more basic than that: getting contradictions in the same room together, around the same table, if only to sit in silence together for a while. For a nation that has arguably never really been morally sober, this may be too much to ask.” (Candler 2020)


Bibliography

Candler, Pete. 2020. “Closing Time in America”, A Deeper South. April 15. Accessed May July 4, 2020, 2020. https://www.adeepersouth.com/stories/2020/4/15/closing-time.

Fitzpatrick, Sergeant Major Marion Hill. 1976. Letters to Amanda: 1862-1865. Edited by Henry Mansel Hammock. Culloden, GA: Henry Mansel Hammock.

Jefferson, Thomas, et al. 1776. Declaration of Independence: A Transcription – National Archives. July 4. Accessed July 4, 2020. https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript.

Stephens, Alexander H. 1861. Cornerstone Speech. March 21. Accessed July 6, 2020. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/cornerstone-speech.


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.

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.