For a People Mourning Anticipating Advent

by Rob Hammock

As I thought about ways to wrap up my contribution to this blogging series, it seemed ironic to me that the liturgical calendar would bring us back again to a season of anticipation. My first blog post was anticipating the spirit’s coming at Pentecost, and now we enter the season of Advent and the anticipation of the coming Christ child. Six months ago, I desired to share stories of encounter with Jesus that told of my own experiences of growth, understanding, and humility. With Advent as a bookend to my blogs, the liturgical calendar seemed to be setting up serendipitously as we moved into the season of lighted candles representing the anticipation of hope, faith, joy, and peace. The opportunity to place a nice bow on my series of blogs would make for a neat Christmas present into what is often a season of pageantry. And, as wonderful as it would be to have a nice “Hallmark” moment in this year that feels like a decade, I can’t wrap that bow. I can’t enter into a season of false sentimentality of easy hope, faith, joy, and peace. 2020 just won’t let me.

Here in the United States, with the seeming end of the presidential election season and the promise of multiple vaccines, I was more than ready to be a drum major for hope into 2021 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic we have all been enduring. But another unexpected moment in the life of my home congregation in 2020 makes easy sentimentality impossible. As I write today, we lost another one of our own. He was an elder, a choir member, a faithful follower, and my brother in Christ. And we do not yet know why. Under any circumstances, this would be a blow and a terrible loss. But, for our congregation of nearly 300, which intentionally desires to be a diverse body of faithful believers, this one was especially hard. This marked the third African American member of our community we have lost this year. All have been thoroughly beloved and important parts of our congregation that have helped us understand who we are and who we yet need to be as the people of God. We lost one to cancer, one to a senseless murder, and one to as of yet unknown causes. My grief is heavy and angry.

The words of Psalm 13:1-2 are on my heart and mind, and I imagine on those of my fellow church members:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

With every ounce of my being I want to jump to the end of the Psalm and share the hope and promise of God’s goodness (verses 5-6):

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

But I’m just not there. The anger, the bitterness, the frustration – they are all too palpable. How can I look forward to Advent?

For the moment I take solace in the words of a young Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who would later come to know what faithfulness meant in the face of great evil when killed by Hitler’s regime:

The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come. (Preached on 12/2/1928 and found in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons.)

In the face of uncertainty of COVID-19, fears of job loss, fears of eviction, and now another untimely and tragic death, “troubled in soul” fits quite well right now for me and my fellow congregants. We long, plead, and cry for “something greater to come”. Knowing the suffering and challenges that have been with us all this year surrounding COVID-19 and racial injustice, I know we are not alone.

So, as I enter into this anticipatory season of Advent, I am yearning once again for encounter with Jesus. I am longing not for false sentimentality. I am desiring of an intentional living into hope, faith, joy, and peace amidst a world that seems to fight against them. And I take some strength from what may come in the words of the African American theologian Howard Thurman as I long for Jesus:

Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes
And the heart consumes itself as if it would live,
Where children age before their time
And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold,
While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death,
Where fear companions each day’s life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed.
In you, in me, in all [human]kind.
(Christmas is Waiting to be Born, The Mood of Christmas &
Other Celebrations, 1985)

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.

Self-Help Individualism Helps. It Cannot Stop the State From Murdering Black People.

by Chris Dela Cruz

At the end of August, the New York Times published a lengthy article on Breonna Taylor piecing together her biography, relationships, and the events of the police shooting. The second half of the article presents biographical details of Taylor’s life favorable to her character as a “new arc that the young woman’s life had taken” that the police spying on her had missed, an “oversight that would have calamitous consequences.” 

According to family and friends, Taylor was always the “responsible one.” She was a “go-getter,” always on time, a “motivator” who inspired the people around her to do better. A friend remembers Taylor sending a screenshot of a money saving system she found on social media.

“At home, Ms. Taylor began writing goals on every scrap of paper – junk mail, napkins, envelopes – her mother said. ‘She would just make these bullet points – I want to have this done by this time – she recalled.”

These reported details jumped out at me because they exemplify the sort of self-help, go-getter individualism taught and embedded in American life as intuitive, conventional wisdom. Regardless of ideology, most Americans hold in high regard these sort of self-help mantras and attitudes.

This is particularly true in the American church. If you looked at a random page from a popular American Christian book and a popular American self-help book, I suspect they might read very similarly. 

The reason I bring all this up is that, by the characterization of the article, Breonna Taylor was doing everything in her self-actualization journey to live the American dream, to earn the American living, to use self-help techniques to empower herself. And, by all accounts, she was doing them well and always had that hard-working, American self-empowerment ethic. Which is great.

But none of that stopped at least eight police officers from smashing a battering ram into Taylor’s residence without a warrant or the proper verbal warning that they were law enforcement. None of that stopped officers from firing bullets both inside and outside her own apartment indiscriminately. None of that prevented her dying in her own apartment in her boyfriend’s arms, a boyfriend who had to call 911 because the police that shot her didn’t give her any medical care for many critical minutes.

I titled this post “Self-Help Individualism Helps. It Cannot Stop the State From Murdering Black People.” A reasonable reader could respond, “Of course, self-help never promises to fix everything.”

But that’s not how we teach it or live it out in America.

We evangelize self-help as salvation. The much quoted/much maligned “pick-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps” is the end result of a culture that places heavy expectations on what you can do on your own, and specifically as a means to explicitly call against systemic change that may dare to entitle someone to something they may or may not deserve. 

Here’s a self-help meets systemic failure parable: Chase Bank’s Twitter account tweeted some #MondayMotivation self-help chastising customers to grow their bank accounts by making their coffee at home and not eating out. Meanwhile, many critics noted, Chase received billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bailout money while everyday workers struggle with living costs up while wages stay stagnant. 

In the American church, this self-help means-of-grace leads us down a path where our preaching and teaching becomes so narrow that it carries no real power or risk. 

I’ve sat through multiple sermons about how the power of Jesus Christ, the Alpha and Omega, Lord and Savior, helps you not yell at drivers on the road. I mean, road rage is real, and our lives would better if we learned self-help techniques concerning this. But why do our sermons concentrate on these moments, and specifically on these moments in lieu of speaking to our gravest, relevant problems on earth, in ways beyond echoing our preferred news talking heads? Or does the One To Whom Every Knee Shall Bend have nothing unique to say about this? Can our churches offer more than glorified self-help seminars to make sure we become well-balanced good middle-class consumers who know how to make good motivational lists?

I want to be clear. I’m not against self-help motivation or financial literacy or focusing on individual self-help. I as a pastor have preached as such, and helped build programs in churches that do as much. I know people who aspire to teach, for example, financial literacy in black and brown neighborhoods as part of their calling. 

And certainly, none of this is at all a knock on Breonna Taylor herself and her use and execution of these self-help, self-motivating techniques. It is great she made those lists, they do help your mind focus, they do empower her to make good choices in her life. But Breonna Taylor should also be alive because the people and leaders around her were “motivated” enough to see her as a human being not deserving of a death sentence for sleeping in her own bedroom.

And, as Anand Giridharadas points out, when you read the Times article in full, you see that it “details the way multiple system failures – in policing but also in our economy, drug laws, and beyond – conspire to constrict and steal Black lives.” Any self-help guru could try to sell the Breonna Taylors of the world that if only they made lists on their napkins, they could finally defeat the war on drugs and mass incarceration and the complexities of gentrification that engulfed her father and her mother and her ex-boyfriend and her neighborhood, all while being an EMT essential worker. But just read the article itself, which literally depicts Taylor’s brave, noble self-help efforts being met by the battering ram of the failing, oppressive systems around her.

Now, it is possible some of the white progressive Next Church audience may have been nodding their heads up to this point saying to themselves, “yeah! No individualized preaching! Systemic structural problems! We don’t preach and teach like that! Woo!”

So, first off, it’s not as simple as that. I suspect some of you could actually use some “Jesus helps you with road rage” individualistic sermons, because the church language you swim in is so generalized and so out of touch with the lives of ordinary, real, suffering lives that all you can do is be “political” – not in the true holistic sense of the word, but political in the sense of “this sermon sounds like you listened to NPR last night” or, perhaps more radically, “a nice paraphrase of the one paragraph of the Ibram X. Kendi article not behind The Atlantic paywall.”

More importantly, it is possible to do all this and still end up offering a pseudo-antiracist form of self-help individualism, where people have enough knowledge to self-actualize into a not-too-racist buzzword-wielding woke individual, but not enough wisdom to actually equip churches and congregants to make a communal impact and change racist policies and systems.

It turns out, then, we may all need a little self-help. But not in the ways we have been taught.

Reverend Chris Dela Cruz is the new Associate Pastor of Youth, Young Adults, and Community Engagement at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon. 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.

A Gracious and Tenacious Spirit Amidst My Cloud of Witnesses

by Rob Hammock

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, … consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3 (NRSV)

Coronatime’s weariness marches on into the fall and advances into the most polarizing presidential campaign I recall experiencing. There is so much noise to sift through on a day-to-day basis, it is exhausting to know where to focus and listen.

For those who can hear, listening ought to be as simple and reflexive as breathing. But in our current world, with enough auditory, visual, and other sensory inputs to easily overload us, discerning to whom or what we should listen is no easy task. Although written over 60 years ago, the words from the French sociologist and Christian, Jacques Ellul, ring no less true today:

“The individual can no longer live except in a climate of tension and overexcitement. [The individual] can no longer be a smiling skeptical spectator. [That person] is indeed ‘engaged,’ but involuntarily so, since [he/she] has ceased to dominate his own thoughts and actions.” ― The Technological Society

Whether it’s navigating emails, phone calls, texts, push notifications, news channels, or web sites, involuntary over-excitement sums up the challenge I feel the need to lean into today. But where do I start? I have to make conscious, consistent decisions, otherwise the “cares of the world” in the Parable of the Sower will too easily “choke the word” as I am overwhelmed with the scope of voices vying for my attention. Thinking of the above verses from Hebrews, I am struck with the notion of being “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”. Who are the witnesses I can listen to and learn from?

I was struck most recently about this at the death of U.S. Representative John Lewis. I cannot remember the last time I teared up at the loss of a political leader, but upon hearing of his passing due to cancer, my lip began to quiver, and my eyes began to water. I had not expected this. Losing Chadwick Boseman in a similar manner just over a month later also hurts. Both African American men died of cancer in a time when their grace and dignity was greatly needed.

But I had only ever met John Lewis.

Over the years my work in affordable housing and community development finance has given me opportunity to visit Selma, Alabama. The first time I went, almost 20 years ago, was to be part of an event to support the Jonathan Daniels Community Development Corporation. Jonathan Daniels was a white, Episcopal seminarian who had been working on registering Black voters when he was gunned down by a local deputy in the adjacent Lowndes County. I had not known the story of him before that visit, but I was inspired by his sacrifice and grateful for his willingness to be proximate and risk his life. I was only a few years out of seminary myself, and I wondered whether I would have been so brave.

While in Selma for that event, I took the time to visit the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. I knew the broad history of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and I knew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the March to Montgomery that had started on March 21, 1965. But I had not yet known about John Lewis and Bloody Sunday, which occurred two weeks prior to that march and was five months before the death of Daniels.

The first march across Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965 was led by Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and John Lewis, the 25-year old leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). With 600 others they marched through Selma and across the bridge only to be met by state troopers and local law enforcement. When they would not disperse, the peaceful marchers were met with a merciless onslaught of billy clubs and tear gas. John Lewis was among the wounded with a fractured skull. Although “Bloody Sunday” was a shock that helped propel the nation to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, that was not the first time that John Lewis had willingly put himself in harm’s way. By the time of that march he had already been arrested dozens of times and beaten on multiple occasions.

I lived in Atlanta for almost 10 years after my first trip to Selma. And I was proud and honored that I had the opportunity to cast my vote for John Lewis as my representative, but it was not until 2019, after I had moved away, that I met him. My 16-year old son and I were on a trip to Atlanta for a weekend of sporting events. In between the football and baseball, we went to the Decatur Book Festival. Strolling along Ponce de Leon Avenue on a Sunday afternoon, I see two older African American men slowly walking in front of us in suits on a hot September day. I see them stop and talk to a couple of other festival attendees, when I realized that the slighter of the men was John Lewis. I quickly told my son and told him I wanted to go talk to him. With a giddiness for the opportunity, I walked up and introduced us and thanked him for his service. Then, I did the most touristy of things – I asked for a selfie. He obliged. I don’t know what I expected beforehand, but I was struck by how utterly gracious and friendly he was in our brief encounter. His gentle, humble spirit belied the fierce tenacious spirit that had endured imprisonment and beatings. From whatever deep reservoir of faith he drew upon, I walked away thinking and feeling that this was a man I need to know and understand better, even more so than I had before.

Amidst the voices that clamor for my attention, I know I need to intentionally focus on those people that bear witness to the work of God. And when I am confused as to whose faithful voice I should listen, I look for those who have demonstrated in practice what it means to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God as my own “cloud of witnesses”. And when I think of John Lewis and the hostility he drew and bore; it gives me hope and courage to “not grow weary or lose heart”. May I listen to his story and learn better so that I may indeed be present and available for “good trouble”.

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.

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.

What Is Your Yoke?

by Rob Hammock

COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are now over 160,000 from over 4.9 million cases. In the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests continue. The unemployment rate is back down to 10%, but individuals and families worry about the potential of eviction or foreclosure as federal financial support has lapsed. Meanwhile, arguments fly back and forth in the media and social media over “cancel culture” and whether or not wearing a mask is good public health policy or an affront to basic freedoms.

I am tired.

Beginning the sixth month of stay-at-home orders and lockdowns and masks and closed businesses, living in this time of uncertainty, fear, and frustration drains me. Sure, my canine co-workers love it and will probably be sorely disappointed if I ever go back to working in an office, but I miss the easy in-person interaction of others and the off the cuff conversations that happen throughout the day. Zoom calls have certainly lightened the load as I have figured out how to play trivia online and sing together in groups, yet Zoom fatigue is real. I miss being able to walk down the street and interact with neighbors as we visit stores and restaurants. I miss being able to come together over sporting events and cheering on my favorite teams. I miss being able to come together to work on challenges in our community together. I miss worship with actual people and tangible communion elements!

I am weary.

“‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’” (Matthew 11:28 NRSV)

Photo by Ana Cernivec on Unsplash

These words of Jesus from Matthew have given me great comfort over the years, particularly when I have wrestled with depressive thoughts and anxiety. I imagine the welcoming, open arms of Christ beckoning me to sit and rest and absorb the love that is all comforting and unconditional in ways that I don’t fully understand and still have a difficult time believing might even be true for me. I am grateful for this invitation and long to sink into it. In corona-time, this invitation feels even more compelling as I await some return to normalcy away from Zoom and away from the constant din of social media and news that is ever frustrating and constantly imbued with anger, derision, scorn, and fear.

And yet, what is the “normal” I seek? What is the invitation to learn from Jesus that follows the call to rest? There may be a period of rest and comfort, but a return to “normal” in the context of the invitation is not the expectation.

“Learn from me” (Matthew 11:29)

If I am worn-down, depressed, and anxious, Jesus is calling me out of that confusion and inviting me to a different place to be open to a new way of being. Business as usual has not worked for my emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual sanity, so there needs to be a new way. “Normal” cannot be the answer, but Jesus is there to guide me, if I am open to surrender to the call.

“For my yoke is easy.” (Matthew 11:30)

I’ve missed the irony in the next verse regarding the easiness of the yoke. From Merriam-Webster, a yoke is a “a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals are joined at the heads or necks for working together.” What in the world sounds easy about a yoke being placed upon me? This sounds like hard, grueling work! But it is simple if I am willing to be open and teachable.

The age of corona-time has offered me the space for reflection and contemplation. The welcoming rest to cast my cares and burdens upon Jesus is real, but it is for rejuvenation and restoration for a new path. To take upon his yoke is to learn and lean in and join in the work. Ultimately, if I’m not stuck too strongly in a place of comfort, I remember it is to join in the work that led Jesus on to the cross.

What is my normal?

In light of my frustrations and weariness, I look back upon what I’m tired from, and I’m struck by how privileged I am to be weary. Where I have legitimate struggles of heart, mind, and health, I can identify them and not minimize them, but I can also right-size my view to know how much I have to be grateful for and that I need to practice the act of gratitude remembrance to counter the negativity.

My family is healthy.

I have shelter.

I have enough food to eat.

I don’t fear being arrested.

My wife and I have jobs that allow us to make ends meet.

My “normal” in pre-corona-time was pretty good. And I am grateful. But, if I am to take on Jesus’ yoke and learn, then part of that task is to remember and know that I do not exist solely for myself. Having been able to find rest and acknowledge Jesus’ love, part of the yoke is to internalize it so I can share it with others whose burden isn’t light and who are indeed quite weary. 

What is my yoke?

Friends and neighbors who have sick loved ones from COVID-19.

Depressed and anxious people living with mental health diagnoses.

Folks worried about not being able to pay the rent or the mortgage.

Families who pray they can find ways to extend the groceries to feed their children.

Black people worried about whether or not they may be the target of the police.

Small business owners wondering if their livelihood is at risk.

Employees on edge waiting to find out if they’re the next to be let go or furloughed.

My privileged rest has the opportunity to take up Jesus’ yoke and be there for those who cannot find a way right now. For those who are fretting. For those who are frustrated. For those who feel powerless. For those who are disenfranchised. I need to listen, learn, and be present where possible to extend Jesus’ grace in solidarity to bear the burdens of my siblings in Christ and neighbors. I know my skills and resources, and I know I am blessed. I can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with my God.

To whom can you listen? From what can you learn? And where can you be present?

What is your yoke?

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.

Preach Racial Justice

by Holly Haile Thompson

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life…” – Tecumseh

I honor my Narragansett siblings and mark their 345th annual August Meeting – I respectfully remember Dr. Ella Sekatau, Mrs. Eleanor Dove and their families. I acknowledge nearly 600,000 lives around Mother Earth now lost to Covid-19. Yet, unbelievably, this is not quite ‘real’ enough to wear a face-covering to perhaps save the lives of others; “I might save another person’s life by wearing a cloth mask” then justify not wearing one?!

Modern-folk believe ‘holy work’ is flashy, famous, wrapped in finery, but I’ve learned it’s not the one with the fancy abode who is the measure of goodness, it is the one whose ‘well-worn path to their door’ who may not even have a lot but they always have enough to share. It is ‘holy work’ to do what is in one’s power to do that others might live.
We have found ourselves ‘alone to pray’ more in 2020 than ever before. Cloistered life invites meditation, contemplation and can result in new insights. Indigenous Peoples observe many forms of devotion, thanksgiving, prayer and meditation out-of-doors, and we are called primitive and heathen for doing so; while in a land where water, air and soil gives life, sustains life, why wouldn’t all devout people protect, nurture and share these God-given elements?

Matthew’s lectionary readings for August come after Jesus’ experience of a death in the family, he needed solitude – still, was not given the luxury of a restorative quarantine. When might caring leadership look at unscheduled interruption as opportunity? When might influential leadership see the unsatisfied throng of humanity and manifest anything but pity for the rabble who hunger and thirst for fairness, decency, healing and hope? ALWAYS. To look upon the community and not see humanity is a problem: big time.

Photo by Wesual Click on Unsplash

Feeding 5000 in a patriarchal system means feeding 5000 men; can we see what’s wrong with this snapshot of helpless disciples and their inability to act? Looking upon this humanity demands a compassionate and humane response – they need to be fed. Not counselled, not removed, not reasoned with, not dismissed, not sent empty away: Feed them. Don’t imagine the dozens of reasons as to why it can’t happen, feed them.

Walking on Water (doing the impossible): some can and some can’t? Focus; and if one’s eyes are not on one’s own bellybutton and its inadequacy, and eyes and hearts are on the action leading to the goal – what seems impossible can be accomplished. So many times a quick re-read of an Allan Boesak sermon from the 1980s will set a wondering wanderer back on the Good Red Road.

Apartheid can’t be changed – but maybe it can;

Racism isn’t a problem in an all White church – well, maybe it is;

Unceded Native Territory will never be recognized – that, too, might come to pass.

“Who do you say that I am?” A question to all who have ears to hear. I say that you’re the One ‘calling out’ and admonishing those who, with impunity, rule using violence. Jesus asks, “Who am I?” The One holding to account people and systems that with astonishing regularity send the needy away hungry, broken, economically and physically crippled, in a system that, by design, creates and maintains conditions resulting in ever-growing populations of desperate dejected, destitute, depleted human beings.

Additionally, “Who have I shown myself to be?” One immune from humanity’s cultural influence, or One who grew up hearing about “Crumbs and Dogs”? In our creeds we mutter some such about ‘fully human and fully divine’ and if the former is also true we must admit to the encompassing influence of one’s own culture; i.e. the ‘White lessons’ given to everyone in the United States – escaped by no one. Enveloping cultural indoctrination perpetuates the ideals of White supremacy and White normalcy in our Nation, Churches and American society. Only those who see beyond these inclinations – and those who learn to see beyond these predispositions – have a chance to become anti-racist no matter who they were born and raised to be.

Don’t become distracted by the crumbs…” Natasha Cloud said to all who work for justice. This WNBA athlete spoke with strength and clarity about the life-path she is walking today in 2020; don’t try and tell her that ‘life’ is not for her, ‘health’ is not for her, she will seek with faithful determination and a singular focus to lift her voice for racial equity in this miserly United States. The wind and the waves are distracting – but they blow where they will because Creator has made it so. The ‘least’ effort to attempt to appease injustice is distracting – but that’s not the focus – ‘Justice in this world’ is the only objective because nothing less can bring Peace.

An Onondaga Elder taught me, “Respect your brother’s/sister’s vision. Can our church-related siblings take a lesson from the Ancient Human Beings of Turtle Island? I pray that they can.

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.

America’s Optimistic Spirit is Killing Us Because We Don’t Know What Faith Is

by Chris Dela Cruz

There are a number of expressions and philosophies I have heard that cut across various ideological and political lines that have a distinct American ring to them. Things work out in the end. Chase your dreams. The sky’s the limit. Your inner state is all about how you decide to see things.

In short, American optimism and positive thinking.

I don’t deny the truth and power in many of these sentiments. In the wake of the stresses of modern life, positivity and reframing situations internally seemed to have gotten many individual Americans through these struggles. These narratives can be powerful motivators for both individual and collective action, narratives that tie in with grand American mythology. We braved the frontier! We flew to the moon! We foster innovation and entrepreneurship!

However, it is now clear that America’s Optimistic Spirit is killing us.

These American coping mechanisms of super positive thinking, of “frontier” sky’s-the-limit mentality, and optimistic framing have ill-equipped us to take a horrific pandemic seriously, to confront the realities of long-embedded systemic racism, and to actually use our dream-thinking where it could matter – to pool our resources to deal with an unprecedented economic disaster with actual far-reaching solutions that help people.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

When it comes to our country’s unique COVID-19 crisis, America’s Optimistic Spirit has failed us on every level – our need for freedom has enraptured many to congregate bars, to open up businesses and churches too early, and to either wear masks haphazardly basically for show or not at all. While hindsight is 20/20, when the virus was first hitting the U.S. many officials failed to respond quickly, and many people dismissed its seriousness and wore their lack of concern as a badge of honor. So many people said this was just the media and government overblowing things as usual, that folks stocking up on goods were crazy. When the shutdowns started in March, I heard from many people “well, guess we’ll stay inside for two weeks, and then we’ll get back to normal,” even though basically every health expert was saying this could take over a year (at least) and require multiple lockdowns.

And this just scratches the surface of the systemic failure, of a President who asserted this was just going to be a blip that would go away, and all the ways we re-opened too early because America decided the virus was over. America’s Optimistic Spirit literally cannot cope with an emergency. It does not know how to acknowledge the negative in life, and it cannot handle things outside of its control. It is our demon, possessing us with a smile while we slowly die.

We know this because, in many ways, America has been in an emergency long before COVID-19. As the recent protests have brought into the open, there are entire communities that live in constant crisis situations that have been ignored for our entire history. Black people have been saying for decades that police officers were getting away with murder, that drugs and weapons were planted at crime scenes, that police reports weren’t telling the whole truth. If it weren’t for iPhones and pent-up lockdown energy, Americans wouldn’t ever have listened, because it gets in the way of our positive outlook on who we are and what we have done.

American optimism and positivity may have helped individuals cope with some of the stresses of our over-worked, capitalistic system. But did these mechanisms just help us soothe ourselves enough so that people don’t adequately process how inhuman and unjust the modern systems are, and therefore not stir the drive and desire to change the system itself? Rich people are optimistic that “things will work out” because they in fact always do – because they have rigged the system to make it so. Those who aren’t rich, unfortunately, also inherit that go-getter, dream big, things will work out attitude, because that’s what permeates our culture, because those with power put out a false mythology of meritocracy for the purposes of giving people false hope, not disclosing just how much privilege played a part in success. How many of those self-starting success stories started out with a loan from daddy?

What I am getting at is this: America’s Optimistic Spirit is basically a coping mechanism used individually and collectively to deny reality. Our entire mythology and national ethos is based on a lie lying to itself so it never has to confront the truth. The sooner we look ourselves in the mirror and purge ourselves of our grave certainty, the better.

There are many reasons we developed this Spirit, and many will rightly focus on the political, systemic roots – namely, a logical extension of our Manifest Destiny to wipe out, enslave, and exploit black and brown people in service of America’s never-ending colonial, capitalist “frontier” expansion.

I want to lift up a theological thread, though, that I think at the very least offers a foundation for the political. We simply don’t know what faith is. I’ve heard faith described colloquially from many faithful American Christians as believing really hard in a better future, because God will make things happen. “All things are possible with God” is a common refrain. Ask and ye shall receive.

Americans, because we have denied the existence of harsh realities and because certain privileges have shielded certain people from experiencing them, develop an immature faith that simply contends that things will just work out if you believe in your head hard enough. Our broken, corrupt systems provide goods for the privileged, the privileged call those goods “blessings” on TV, and everyone else recites the creed.

In practice, faith becomes a mastery of control, internally and externally. Internally, because the individual person is asked to control their emotions enough to deny the alarm bells those emotions are signalling about the harshness of reality and the injustice of the systems – yes, you should be angry that your back is against the wall, and yes you should be sad that people are dying for no reason! Externally, because America goes out into the frontier “by faith” while continuing the tradition of exploitation and oppression for anyone who gets in America’s way.

We don’t know a faith whose posture is more of surrender and mystery and loss of control. We don’t know a faith that allows for lament and doubt instead of explanation and certainty.

And so we are left with thousands of people dead of COVID-19 without acknowledging that it doesn’t have to be this way, with a country that cannot even deal symbolically with our racist statues without federal stormtroopers kidnapping people in rental cars.

And we are left to live by Faith alone. After all, demanding our government to provide a more sustainable, substantive COVID-19 response or to fundamentally change its racist systems would require us confronting America’s harsh realities in a way that our Spirit alone cannot cope with.

But I guess I should think positively. Sola Fide!

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.

The Jealous God

by Whitney Fauntleroy

Did you know that the God we worship is jealous? We tend to describe God in the easier to digest terms: merciful, gracious, loving, forgiving, patient -or-in the chorus of omni’s- omnipresent, omniscient.  In general, we do not like the idea of worshipping a God who is jealous. While I am pretty familiar with the definition of jealous, I want us to wade into the definition anew today. From Miriam Webster:

1: hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage : ENVIOUS

2a: intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness

b: disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness

3: vigilant in guarding a possession

In Exodus 20 one of the places in the Bible where we find the Ten Commandments, I keep going back to God’s reminder of this particular attribute. God is a jealous god. God has at this point in the scriptural witness a history of punishing current generations for the sins and disobedience of their great grandparents. Why? Simply because God is jealous. Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them”. We seem to be skeptical that God is who God says She is, particularly when God defines herself in hard to swallow terms.

Photo by Robert Vergeson on Unsplash

As the debate over removing statues and monuments erected for problematic American figures rages on…again, I cannot help but think about our love of idols. Most of the time when I heard about idols in the worship or teaching spaces of church it was things like money or success but what about actual graven images? Perhaps we all got so used to these statues and monuments, that we never paused to think about who the person was or what it meant for all of God’s children to have them look over capitol buildings and public spaces. Idol worship is intrinsic to what seems like the real state religion of America which is America. The very idea of our country is an idol, the way many of our histories, documents, and thus those who made them possible in broad strokes of American ideals: courage, bravery, freedom means that many of us are taught to love this country before we are taught to love Christ. 

Civil religion is not the same thing as faith in the Triune God. That can be easy to forget when there are sanctuaries with American flags and some congregations sing to the idols of American exceptionalism on State holiday Sundays. My senior year of high school I attended Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation and heard Dr. Stanley Hauerwas said, “If your church has an American flag in your sanctuary then your salvation is in jeopardy”. 

When the people who fill our pews (and our clergy too) love the ideals (even as corrupt as they can be) of these yet to be United States more than the ideals of the kingdom of God, how do we reclaim our allegiance not to flags and founding fathers but reclaim our fidelity to a God who already told us that they were jealous, and that idol worship, graven images no matter how noble the human may be is sin against God?

My prayer is that we sit with what American gods we serve, question whose freedom we seek ,and remember that God is indeed a jealous God and that might just be good news right now, always, and forever.

Whitney Fauntleroy is a North Carolina native. Now in her sixth year of ordained ministry, Whitney is grateful to have experienced ministry in many contexts. Whitney has served as Director of Youth Ministry at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, a Designated Solo Pastor at Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, NC. In the Spring of 2017, she began serving as Associate Pastor of Youth and Young Adults at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

Whitney is also part of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and writes at the intersection of popular culture, identity, and theology.

Who Deserves To Be The Sower?

by Holly Haile Thompson

“Massa keat mund summana wequannank soops nipi. Tabutne.” Our land has truly been blessed by the Great God of Nature. – A Shinnecock Prayer

In loving memory: Edythe Thunder Bird Gregoire returned to the Spirit World May 31, 2020. Sister; “Mother to many, grandmother to more;” A respected Shinnecock Elder, who passed during the pandemic but not of the virus – so her children could say ‘good-bye’, and she did not have to die alone; that meant the world to us. We are so grateful for her life, a loving woman of faith.

“My Daddy changed the world”

I quote Gianna Floyd, 6 year old daughter of George Floyd, killed by police in Minnesota last week. Yet, when I consider the unreasonable cost of Mr. Floyd’s accomplishment, surely there were less violent ways to get the attention of White sisters and brothers in this country, in this world.

Substitutionary Atonement is a dangerous concept… “to glorify suffering is to render [George Floyd’s] suffering sacred. To do so is to glorify the sin of defilement.”*

In the 1990s I had the honor of supping with Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin, we were guests of Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper. Naturally our conversation included my being a Shinnecock Indian, how my perspective was necessarily different to his. There came a point I felt that I was not making my meaning clear, so when in doubt, quote Dr. Delores S. Williams (that’s the best advice I can give anyone)! I’d recently visited Dr. Williams at Union Seminary, and we’d discussed White siblings who live in fear that someone might “push the proverbial button” ending life as they know it. She said, “…it could be said that ‘the button’ has already been pushed on my people.” A sentiment that, as an Indigenous woman, I could recognize.

And so I said to Dr. Coffin, “Professor Delores Williams says that “…it could be said that ‘the button’ has already been pushed on [her] people”; I added that Native people aren’t interested in helping the Whites continue a centuries long ‘reign of terror’ against the Brown peoples of the earth. He asked me if I really thought people would choose ‘to end it all’ rather than help this America continue? ‘Twas a decade before 9-11; I merely asked why would we willingly continue to labor in a deadly, unjust system for more of the same?

Dinner conversation has its limits; lessons are intended to plant a seed deep within those with ears who listen.

July’s lectionary considers the Matthean version of ‘sowers and seeds’, prefaced by particular actions and unexpected, yea unintended, results. In Mt 11, John the Baptist and Jesus, both divine messengers, one with fire, one with cool water, but neither seemed able to capture the hearts of those who, together, could have helped make their world more loving, more just, a better place; – the hearers would neither dance together, nor mourn together.

Photo by Neslihan Gunaydin on Unsplash

Even the untutored understands; a 6 year old can imagine love over hate.

And if ‘Sowers of Seeds’ don’t know the difference between Good Ground** and thorny, rocky terrain and soil with ulterior motives then why should they remain in charge of the planting?

John’s fiery doctrinal ‘law and order’ mandating “Repent!”, come to the Jordan, be baptized, prepare for judgement – make ready for new life. In contrast, Jesus’ commitment to the ‘least of these’, water for all who thirst, and his passion for the God of Justice didn’t appeal to those who revel in their ability to mete out provision, punishment, blessing or curse as they saw fit: religious and civil authorities covertly cooperating with occupying Romans are not interested in an egalitarian society.

Part of my perspective includes my own experience: Last summer I reported a troubling e-mail sent to my More Light church which I believed threatening in nature. This e-mail targeted – by name – the mother of an inter-racial family of church members; we also housed a HeadStart on the premises. I’d been home on Shinnecock, so showed the e-mail to my Tribal Chairman and several Council Members – all of whom had a criminal justice background. They recommended that I go to the State Police to have this disturbing e-mail documented and alert the authorities; after which, upon returning to my church with the NY State Police Incident Number in hand, I could alert the upstate police and ask that they take closer notice of our building and grounds for the safety of all concerned.

The State Trooper laughed at me. After my husband and I waited 25 minutes in the waiting area without seeing anyone, the tall, burly, White Trooper glanced at the text of the e-mail and laughed. “When you’re finished laughing, would you please document this report and kindly issue me an Incident Number to take to the Police Dept local to my church…” who, thankfully, took very seriously the fact that individuals, inter-racial families, HeadStart children and elderly church-folk must be kept safe in their town.

Black, Brown and Indigenous people have thousands of stories… so when will our White siblings listen?


*Womanist Theology on Atonement, by Delores S. Williams – as printed in The Nonviolent Atonement, second edition, by J. Denny Weaver, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI 2011; page 199.
**Good Ground is the traditional name given by the Shinnecock People to the portion of our Territory now known as Hampton Bays, Long Island, NY

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. 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.