Saturday, March 18, 2017

Reflections on a Conversation, A Message on Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well

The text today, John 4:1-26, is about Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well at midday in the town of Sychar, a town in route to Galilee, about 40 miles from Jerusalem. It gives us a glimpse of two people engaging in conversation at Jacobs well.  It provides a means to see an encounter of deep listening and a gracious empathetic response to the challenges experienced by a Samaritan woman longing to be heard.  This conversation is also a means by which to see Jesus giving full attention to the words of the Samaritan woman, to experience the intimate encounters of her life.  Simone Weil, a French philosopher, activist and mystic writes in her book Gravity and Grace that attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. I think attention, often is the question, “Has anyone heard my cry, does anyone even care.

For Jesus to converse with a Samaritan woman, a woman not married, considered a nonperson in the Roman context was a profoundly unorthodox encounter as Jews did not engage in any way with Samaritans.   Further, it was a man’s world and woman, particularly Samaritan woman were outcast and overlooked in most matters.  But for Jesus, speaking to a woman, even a Samaritan woman as a human being was nothing new, this is how he moved in the Roman world. Of course, the Samaritan woman, not being used to being treated as a viable human being with divine importance at first could not fathom the words spoken by Jesus for her suffering and loneliness were heavy upon her, yet the more she conversed with Jesus the Son of God the more she awakened to what Jesus had to offer.  It is at this point her burden of outcast and loneliness was lifted. She had been undone and awakened by Jesus the Messiah to receive living water, a most extravagant grace so deep and soothing that she had to share it with her community.  She had experienced the riches of God’s grace and in the process received the fullness of her humanity.  The apostle Paul was so touched by this extravagant grace, the living water as he writes to Christians at Ephesus

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ[b] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[c] having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this[d] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

                                                                                                            Ephesians 1:3-14

Amid this life, God offers each of us extravagant grace, that is, living water so that our souls might be well nourished and our hopes renewed daily.  Each of us should consider this as we journey through our day recognizing that God has poured out living water through Jesus Christ to each of us.   Like the Samaritan woman at the well we are called into conversation with Jesus Christ.  It may be an unsuspecting encounter or a moment in time when our way seems foggy, cloudy or without light, yet the living water, that extravagant grace is near you, it is very present.  It is in this illuminating light of Christ that the Lenten Season appears calling each of us to reflect on our conversations with Jesus Christ, to, in some sense, like the Samaritan woman at the well, rediscover the fullness of our humanity. We must not take this lightly as we are living in a time when our collective humanity is under attack by forces of profound injustice.  Healthcare, education, the environment, energy, immigration, global warming, and earth herself are all under attack by powers which seek to deny the fullness of our collective humanity and the sacredness of mother earth.  

This past Friday I attended the Earl Lectures at Pacific School of Religion.  The topic for this year’s Earl Lectures was Border Identifies. The keynote speaker was Jose’ Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, activist and undocumented immigrant.  He shared stories of his experiences as an undocumented immigrant and the injustice of the present immigration system.  He described the danger, challenge and the risk many go through as human beings undocumented.  He described the fear, the suffering and the oppression experienced at the feet of an immigration system broken. And though the situation is real it was his faith that has held him. It is his community that maintains his hope.  He reminded me that the writings of James Baldwin collectively say, “I am who I am, deal with it.”  

This is the point of the whole conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, that she must reclaim her humanity regardless of her position in society and culture.  She was no longer outcast and lonely, searching for meaning, but a child of God in communion with Jesus Christ the beloved the Son of God. The message of “Jesus and the woman at the well” is “Amid a world suffering we must reclaim daily the fullness of our humanity and in the process, defy powers which seek to deny our humanity through unjust, immoral policies reflective of revenge politics.”  Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world's darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Yet amidst those powers which would deny our humanity we have a faith defiant, resilient without apology and in this we stand in the light of the cross and the resurrection.

The Hope and the Joy of the Well

And what is the hope and joy of the well but a love so deep that it overcomes the oppressions which seeks daily to deny the humanity of God’s people. The hope and the Joy is the good news shared by many which gradually, with intention reveals the Kingdom of God to a world in need of God’s extravagant grace.   

Friday, February 24, 2017

Ongoing Culture Wars, Social Order and the use of the Bathroom by Transgender Students. Is the Intervention by those who oppose the Right of Transgender Students to use the Bathroom of their Choice Morally Credible?

The argument over the use of the bathroom by transgender students would seem to be absurd on the surface and without merit to some who embrace more progressive, thoughtful and critical views. Yet there is a deeper issue which compels the cultural and political battle lines drawn.  I remember working at my local Target store here in Emeryville, CA some years ago, where a situation arose when the only bathrooms available were the women’s bathroom and a bathroom where the parents could clean and change their baby’s diapers, etc.  What was interesting about the matter is that men having a choice to use the women’s bathroom, and/or the baby changing bathroom preferred to stand in physical stress and pain waiting the men’s restroom to open.  It was astounding as seemingly mature, thoughtful adults, chose to get physically stressed, some visibly in pain as they waited for the men’s restroom to open. 

For many, arguments over the use of the bathroom, between good, well intentioned and thoughtful people on all sides, are framed as concerns for parental rights, prevention, safety and privacy within a discourse on what is moral based on sensitivities affirmed by conservative or progressive interpretations of biblical scripture and a social order rooted in historical desires of sexism, racism and patriarchy. The bathroom issue presents a profound moral crisis as it echoes, at least for this writer, actions exemplified by the election in 2008 and 2012 of Barack Obama, the first African American, as President of the United States, the legalization of gay marriage, women’s rights, immigration, economic and cultural globalization, the war on terror, the decline and the gradual demise of the white working class as a significant voice in the U.S. cultural, economic and political arenas. The world no longer revolves around the exclusivity of desires, interpretations, imaginations and affirmations of white society and culture. 

Despite political situations unjust, alternative facts, divisive rhetoric, and the supposed deconstruction of the progressive, administrative state, as stated by Steve Bannon, senior advisor to the President of the United States at CPAC, a conservative political action convention, the U.S. is experiencing a fundamental sociocultural shift in its social order, this will not be stopped.  The use of bathrooms by transgender students is just the tip of the iceberg.  The bathroom issue is not so much about prevention, safety or privacy, but a means to address the reality that American society is moving beyond traditional notions of a social order based on the desires of white society and culture, its imagination, and its privilege as gained through genocide, enslavement, disregard for treaties, and various forms of oppression. The reaction to this shift has resulted in the election of a white alpha male daily proving he is unfit to be president, the attack on a free press, the burning of Mosques, bomb threats of Jewish Community Centers, millions of immigrants at risk of deportation, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, to name a few.   

Rescinding the rules, contrary to Title IX, on the use of bathrooms by transgender students is just one more shot of intervention by those who fight for a more traditional social order against the inevitable progress of a liberal progressive agenda. That said, writing as one who is African American, transgender a woman and progressive, I suggest that agendas emerge from those intimate authentic spaces of being and therefore whatever intervention of religion, politics, law enforcement, cultural or social discourses engaged are primarily confronting questions of authenticity and how to live out that authenticity daily in the face of oppression and in some cases repression. June Jordan, author of Civil Wars. Touchstone, 1981, writes, Intervention has its limits. The limits of intervention, particularly when it comes to matters of civil rights and social justice, conjure images of Bull Conner, water hoses and his dogs, Church Bombings, and Jim Crow, as those who stubbornly held on to a social order that had long past. Their intervention for the sake of a social order based on racism and the affirmation of whiteness eventually led to their shame. 

Considering Black History Month, the question for this writer in addition to whether a transgender student can use the bathroom of their choice is a moral one. Is the intervention by those seeking to protect or at least, shore up a social order in transition moral? Is there moral credibility to their argument? The many successes of the civil rights movement including the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States makes it clear that the morality of the argument is crucial in attaining the justice of Micah 6:8 and a peace within unhindered by injustice.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

In closing, the use of the bathroom by transgender students must be seen within the larger context of a culture war of moral consequence at least for now being prosecuted by the local community upon the Trump administration rescinding rules regarding transgender students use of bathroom in schools and the supreme court. In this sense the bathroom issue is at the vanguard of a human rights, liberal progressive political agenda and must be defended at all cost not just for itself but for the liberation of the soul from regimes of ignorance and oppression and the freedom to be at peace within.  

Monday, February 20, 2017


As ordained clergy, transgender scholar and activist engaged in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I find that a Sabbath-rest, that is, intentional and sacred resting, is crucial to my well-being and sustainability.  Recently, while waiting for a flight out of Atlanta, GA after a Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle retreat focused on rest and appreciation, I posted on facebook the following statement, “Waiting on a plane in Atlanta, GA, I am reminded that the work we do as a matter of social justice is necessary and noble, it also requires that each of us gets the rest needed.” Working on the message for today I was reminded of the amazing work done by each of us to make the gospel of Jesus Christ real in our life and in the lives of those around us.  That we are engaged in an intense struggle of moral consequence against profound and blatant injustice.  A time when truth and facts, as reported by various credible media outlets, have been sequestered for the sake of political gain and racism and extreme affirmations of racial identity. Divisive and caustic rhetoric and lies seem to be the order of the day with the lives of people in the balance. Considering the work, we do amidst this unfortunate state of affairs the question is, “Do we rest or When do we rest?” The challenges and issues of our day are real and must be confronted for as James Baldwin writes “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”   Yet to rest, to take time out is necessary so that we might face those things referred to by Baldwin, to fight the good fight of faith.  I suggest that Jesus was the foundation of Baldwin’s words and his work, as he, that is Baldwin, was a man who answered the call of God early in his life.  If Jesus, the dynamic, rebellious rabbi and messiah of the disinherited, is foundational to the thought of James Baldwin then engaging Jesus regarding a Sabbath-rest would be fruitful to gaining a different understanding of rest. 
The life of Jesus reminds us that to be obedient to the call of God’s will, at times, characterizes the one with the courage to follow God’s call to confront the misery and injustice of this life as a rebel, revolutionary, a law breaker.  Considering the misery, the people suffered, Jesus was constantly inundated with multitudes of people who needed healing and feeding. In Mark 6:30-32, having just dealt with the beheading of John the Baptist, the apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. In Mark 4:35-41 Jesus modeled physical rest as he falls asleep in a boat with the disciples during a raging storm. Even when others frantically wanted His help, Jesus was willing to take a nap. He knew when His body needed physical rest and was unapologetic about taking it. Jesus also advocated for the Sabbath-Rest in Mark 2:27 “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” And in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Based on the scriptures I imagine the life and ministry of Jesus to be intense and at times somewhat insane, with little time to rest.  Rest was a cherished time, almost a selfish time set aside, a time when he could recharge for the daunting task of ministry ahead as prescribed by God in Genesis 2:3.  For Jesus, I would suggest that the Sabbath-rest is a means to (1) glorify God, (2) trust in God (3) to re-focus, re-imagine (4) sustainability (5) restoration (6) peace within and (7) transformation.  Each one of the elements of a Sabbath-rest, as expressed in the experience of Jesus, has implications towards the confrontation of evil, injustice and our salvation.
 If we are seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus a Sabbath-rest must be embraced as a central part of life in community.  At the retreat, I remember a film featuring Rev. Kanyere Eaton, Pastor of Fellowship Covenant Church New York City giving a keynote address at the lives of Commitment Breakfast sponsored by Auburn Seminary, a Presbyterian Seminary in New York City. She had a lot to say about rest but the words that touched my heart were, “God is not glorified in your exhaustion.”
Her point was that God’s commands us to rest. In fact, if we do not rest, taking care of the body, mind and soul we are not honoring or glorifying God. Simply put, a healthy body, mind and soul glorifies God and makes for a productive and dynamic life.  (Wow!)  Per 2014 study at Harvard Medical School, for people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all through the next day.  Additionally, sleep deprivation can lead to higher risk of chronic health problems like high blood pressure and stroke. In a society, which traditionally has valued work over rest, reminiscent of Calvinism and the protestant work ethic, to rest, received as a holy act ordained of God, is somewhat counterintuitive. Rest would seem to be a logical and necessary part of life yet, despite God’s command and considerations of health risk rest in many circles is frowned upon.
Simone Weil, a French philosopher and activist of the 20th Century, considered a saint by Albert Camus, wrote in her book “Gravity and Grace” a posthumous 1952 collection of Weil’s enduring ideas, culled from her notebooks by Gustave Thibon, the farmer whom she entrusted with her writings before her untimely death “Attention is the rarest form of generosity Simone Weil’s statement compels the following questions, “Do we give attention to our mind, body, and soul?” “Do I rest, relax, take time out for myself?  Is this time carved out, intentional? Should I protect my time of rest as sacred, holy without compromise? These are important question to ask ourselves if we are to successfully and sustainably confront the injustice prevalent in our society today. Remember, Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.  Buddha

Friday, September 9, 2016


I would like to share with you some thoughts on the topic “The Proclamation of a faithful witness.”

We are living through days of change and transformation of Church and Society, of humanity and systems.  Times of shifting demographics and narratives.  There is a longing for yesterday and its imperfections.  In this light I am compelled to ask, “What does it mean to be a faithful witness, yes, to proclaim the good news. I have pondered this question first as a person in the pew and then as a Christian minister who is transgender and African American whose passion is to share the good news and whose theological stance is progressive and transformative. 

I am mindful that there will come a time, as it has for many who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, when the call will be, “What will you do? Not, “What would Jesus do?”  This will be the time to proclaim the faithful witness.  The faithful witness is ones whose heart, having encountered the amazing grace and courageous love of Jesus Christ the son of the living God, has been made new.  They no longer live by the standards and desires of the world but live into their communion with God, thus embracing the desires, longings and hopes of God.  The faithful witness recognizes and advocates for the Good News for there is an urgency as the drumbeats of extremist rhetoric and ideology, racism, bigotry and hatred become louder and more pronounced.

Yet as I reflect on the reality on the life of Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rev, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Apostle Paul in their time I am reminded that the one who truly encounters God’s amazing grace and courageous love cannot help but be that faithful witness proclaiming the good news in the midst of difficult, challenging times where death may a destination, if not but momentary.  Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was just such a faithful witness as he proclaimed the good news during the time of Nazi Germany.  He chose to live the Cost of Discipleship as he became the definition and character of the faithful witness, proclaiming the good news. One gathers, through his actions and writings in defiance of the Nazi Regime that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had tasted and seen that the lord was good. (Psalm 34:8)

Inspired by Psalm 119: 1-8

Happy are those who walk in God’s ways.
Blessed are those who observe God’s commandments.
Faithful are those whose eyes are fixed on righteousness. 
Joyful are those whose hearts are filled with praise.
Come, let us love the Lord our God.
We come to worship the One
who leads us in the ways of life.

~ posted on the Ministry Matters website.

The faithful witness is faithful, that is, they are steadfast and immovable in righteousness grounded in their communion with Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.

To live a righteous life is a matter of a good heart and a healthy soul.  Indeed, the aforementioned requires time, cultivation, meditation and prayer for the goal of the faithful witness is to reflect their communion with Christ.  Surely, perfection is not the point of the faithful witness for perfection will soon seek to appease the ego, the philosophical, the flesh but it must be love for it is the prime directive of a righteous life. Justice as means to an inclusive love, not tribal or exclusionary, must be experienced as a reflection of righteousness, this righteousness a consequence of their communion with Christ.  The faithful witness has profound religious and spiritual grace for the calling requires such.  The faithful witness will not be deterred from sharing the good news even death for death hath no sting. (1 Cor. 15:55)    In a conversation with my mother I was blessed as she said, “Laws to change society, to make society more just don’t matter if the heart hasn’t been changed. This is similar to the words President Obama said in his speech at the memorial for police officer gunned down in Dallas, TX. The words of my mother and the President are reminiscent Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s words as he fought even until death to break the back of manifest injustice in the South and to create space for a brighter day for all Americans.  He sought to bring the good news to a people living in the midst of discrimination, segregation, lynching and Jim Crow.  In the midst of looming death, he stayed the course.  He was a righteous man sharing the good news of freedom for all and the world was changed.

The Law has its place yet without a heart that’s been changed the law becomes a means to oppress thus it does violence to the soul.

The proclamation of a faithful witness is a reality of a changed heart. An example of this is the Apostle Paul.  He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, the preeminent keeper of the law, persecuting the Church, in the name of the law. (Philippians 3:5-6) But when he, that is Saul, since he was called this at the time before, had an encounter with the living Christ on the Road to Damascus his heart was changed, his soul was fixed, he was no longer Saul but Paul, he was no longer blind, he had received amazing grace and a courageous love, he had a new vision. (Acts 9:1-19) He was a new man, a new creation in Christ Jesus.  Paul had become the proclamation, he had become the faithful witness of Christ, the good news. 

And this is the Kingdom of God, that the heart shall be changed, a vision transformed and love made real.

The one whose heart has been touched by God then becomes the light, living in a profound communion.  They live and move by the spirit of God in matters of heart and soul, in concerns of the practical and this grounded in a great grace.

The Transformed Nonconformist[1]

Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
(Romans 12:2) 

A study of Romans 12:2 is an engagement of who or what we are living in relationship to or with.  It is a critical discourse which requires thoughtful, careful and intentional contemplation since sooner or later we reflect that relationship.  Hence the importance of who we marry or become intimate with regardless of gender, race or ethnic identity.  Taken further, living rightly within a relationship reflects a depth of love ordained of God. 

So the question at hand, “Do we seek to live in right standing with society and its many characterizations of race, sexuality, gender, economy, politics and religion, each with its particular colonial narrative of cost benefit analysis.  Do we seek to be in right relationship as established by those in power who determine life as benefits their narrative regardless of the harm and injustice perpetrated?  Is this the primary meaning of righteousness?

Clearly there is a type of righteousness, as written in Philippians 3:5-6, reflected of obedience to the law. That is, a set of rules, regulations and policies which exemplify an implicit and explicit social contract which represents an agreement between community and society as a whole and enforced by the state as desired by particular interests, whether left wing, right wing or centrist, of socio-cultural, political, economic or religious import. The law, in practice, though it is called to further a just and civil society for all, significantly reflects the interests of corporations, i.e., the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) and civic economic partnerships seeking to appease economic desires of and for globalization through gentrification as reported throughout the media landscape. In this light it is key to address this state of affairs within the theological context of the proclamation of a faithful witness because of the issues of justice and concerns of power and authority dictated through those relationships. The aforementioned has been very much a concern of Black Lives Matter (BLM) as they address the militarization of law enforcement, police brutality, unjust incarceration, the displacement of people of color as well as those in poverty, as a consequence of gentrification.  See the BLM platform

“The world needs saints who have genius, just as a plaque-stricken town needs doctors. Where there is need there is obligation.”                 

Waiting for God[2] 

 There is a danger for those who would defy, even courageously, a type of righteousness espoused by totalitarian regimes of desire. Yet, those who would seemingly reject this righteousness, seeking to express a different and more diverse consideration grounded in dialogues of the authentic have a mandate to be nonconformist, to be people of conviction, and not conformity, of moral nobility, not social respectability. They live differently, according to a higher loyalty.”[3] Similar to a doctor who seeks to heal the body and the mind the one who would defy totalitarian regimes of desire actively seeks the healing of culture and society, the body politic if you will, to bring new vision to the art of healing. In this light they continue the work of many spiritual/religious healers down through the ages. 
With a clear mind and a heart towards a divine prophetic calling they are mindful that healing, i.e., transformation, while at times violent and unsettling, is the beginning social and cultural change, ushering in an awakening which calls forth God’s grace, that is, unmerited favor.  It is prudent, particularly in regard to the work of the faithful witness to address a discourse on oneness between the faithful witness and their God.  While this relationship should not be considered an interpretation of sectarian it should be acknowledge that they do their work rooted in their communion with the holy. It is from this communion that they are able to stand against the many injustices embodied with the totalitarian regimes of desire. 

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

 Micah 6:8

"I do not at all understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are, but does not leave us where it found us."

What moves the faithful witness is their communion with God through Jesus Christ, and it is their communion which enlivens the faithful witness towards God’s grace.

Grace the medium to achieve their hope.  The faithful witness having been awakened toward a great and profound grace finds an internal obligation to share the grace received with those they encounter along the journey of life.  They recognize that the human condition, with its many afflictions, needs grace, for it is grace, that is unmerited favor, which guides upon thy joyous and treacherous path, leading them and their community to spiritual maturity in the fullness of time.

In light of God’s grace and the afflictions which seemingly persist, the faithful witness asks, “Where is God’s grace in society?  What would curtail God’s grace.”  Shall affliction of disparity or injustice inhibit God’s grace, one thinks it impossible as grace is a most persistent and present witness of the love of God. Grace is God’s longing for intimacy with created beings.

And it is thy grace which mediates one’s intimacy with God, this beyond human comprehension. Whatever strength dwell therein to encounter the ills of society must first be addressed as matters of the sacred and the holy, indeed it by grace. While strategies whether material, political or scientific can and do encounter the concerns of injustice and inequality, hatred and bigotry it has always been grace that has overcome. The faithful witness is daily reminded of the civil rights song written by Pete Seeger, “We Shall Overcome 

We shall overcome, we shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall overcome some day

The Lord will see us through, the Lord will see us through
The lord will see us through some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
The Lord will see us some day

We’re on to victory, we’re on to victory
We’re on to victory some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We’re on to victory some day

We’ll walk hand in hand, we’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We’ll walk hand in hand some day

We are not afraid, we are not afraid
We are not afraid today
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We are not afraid today

The truth shall make us free, the truth shall make us free
The truth shall make us free some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
The truth shall make us free some day

We shall live in peace, we shall live in peace
We shall live in peace some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall live in peace some day

For the faithful witness the song “We Shall Overcome” is an appeal to God for grace to manifest in the fullness of time for all people, breaking down the barriers and injustices which seek daily to deny the love of God for all. And it is to this end that the Proclamation of the faithful witness seeks the fullest expression of grace.

[1] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2010), 11.
[2] Simone Weil, Waiting for God (First Perennial Classics, 2001), 99.
[3] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2010), 12.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


The life of the prophet and servant becomes the evidence of an Inbreaking of God as they challenge and eventually overcome the imagination of colonialism, patriarchy and white supremacy.  

Prayers and thoughts go out to Dilma Rouseff, family and supporters as she takes time to assess the decision made by Brazilian senate to impeach her.  While I don’t presume to know the internals of the Brazilian political schema I do find that there is a need of the soul to speak, to be heard as a matter of justice and solidarity. It is to that end that this piece is written.

These are difficult and challenging time for those of us of a liberative progressive persuasion.  Though we struggle, we cannot let go of those dreams countered by those of a different persuasion who project desires reminiscent of a banana republic and compensatory excesses of a puppet state which reflect strategies and particular interpretations of doctrines in support of United States Imperialism.  That said, there are some critical lessons to be learned as power, defined in terms of patriarchy and white supremacy, and corporate domination, seek to marginalize and delegitimize narratives which challenge this status quo.  Breaking down barriers is no easy or manageable task yet just as the sunlight gradually breaks through the early morning cloud cover here in the San Francisco Bay area so to the sunlight of shall burn away the clouds, yes, even the rein historically exclusive towards colonial narratives.

The spirit of the people has and will continue to rise, throwing off those historical narratives of oppression first envisioned by the colonizer and maintained by their descendants.  In this those who are oppressed and marginalized, those whose lives are a consequence of regimes which represent U.S. American and global economic interests, must center themselves not in forms and strategies of retaliation but in the eternal call of the heart for liberation and necessary resistance.  Although the ouster of Dilma Rouseff is a setback for those who fought long and hard to achieve the election of the first woman president of Brazil they must not lose hope, more so they must move in divine grace knowing that the sun is gradually setting on those systems and strategies of power dominated by those who profit off of the sorrows of many people. A new day is about to dawn.

The prophet rarely receives honor as they make a new way.  This becomes the blessing and the challenge.  In this embrace your liberation and in essence free God to do more.

To be free of the norms dictated, authenticity becomes a remedy rooted in the heart and soul of the one longing for freedom for themselves and others.  The question, “When shall I know my humanity?”  Whether it be in life or death, in ease or struggle, my humanity shall appear.   Said another way, authenticity facilities imagination which is the resource of liberative thought and discourse.  I must acknowledge that the life of Christ, even to the Cross is an inspiration to receive my humanity as a particular intimacy of divine import and in this to encounter an imagination which affirms a soul reflective of the incarnation and notions of justice and righteousness in the presence of the cosmic sacred. 

Specifically, the goal of life is to know my humanity and thus a particular intimacy with God.  The objectives of life, i.e., the strategies which enable this intimacy have been theology, economics, math, science, history and politics (and one should not limit oneself to these particular strategies only) should express the sincerest desires of the soul and to that end all discourse and dialogues should express that concern, this regardless of persuasion.  Yet, what I’ve experienced thus far specifically in Western Civilization is how power and ego tend to challenge the needs of the soul particularly as exhibited by the decisions of those in power. Dilma Rouseff, like many others before her present the case of the soul and its expression as an authentic reality of life in Brazil which necessarily strikes fear in the status quo.  Of course, this is not a discourse on Paulo Freire and his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s excellent book “The Cost of Discipleship” or a study on the life of Oscar Romero and sainthood but it is a discourse on needs of the soul and certain longings expressed in the midst of the complications and complexities of desire. That said, the grand calling of desire must be to reimagine power and its various sites, which are, for many in Brazil and throughout the America’s, a means towards longings of liberation satisfied, sufferings rewarded, hopes made real and a society transformed. Dilma Rouseff and the Brazilian Workers party, sought to reimagine, restructure and reframe power in Brazil from a system of corruption towards a just and fair governance. This may be considered radical and leftist in the face those who are invested the narrative of the privilege and the exclusive at the expense of the masses of people struggling through prolonged injustice. Clearly Rouseff and those of the Brazilian Workers Party were out maneuvered in their just but challenged strategy which ended in Rouseff’s impeachment. 

I am mindful of the words of Unitarian Universalist Minister Theodore Parker,

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.[1]

Theodore Parker’s words are comforting, eliciting much patience for a thirst unquenched.  The global movement for liberation and justice is not deterred by one setback but more so it is made even more secure in its arguments for justice as regimes, fearful of losing power, seek to marginalize or even disappear the people and their movements.

One should wonder how this will play out as the First Woman to be nominated by a major U.S political party is treated if she is elected president. 

Those of us who live a liberated life, where freedom is paramount, must press on holding on to those lessons of divine import so that one day freedom and liberation would rein supreme for all people.

[1] 1853, Ten Sermons of Religion by Theodore Parker, Of Justice and the Conscience, Start Page 66, Quote Page 84-85, Crosby, Nichols and Company, Boston. (Google Books full view) link

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Christian Minister reflects on Civil Society and Terrorism, An Essay

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” ― Simone Weil

Image result for images of the cross of calvary
Each day is a new and vivid day of prayer as I rise thankful to God for a most bountiful blessing.  I embrace the joy which inhabits this day as each day is a universe of longings and desires unto itself.  Indeed, I receive God’s attention. The aforementioned must be considered an in-breaking of sorts as I encounter one more report of horrific violence, a symptom of the unanswered circumstances and concerns of people long ago frustrated, and now seemingly hopeless, by regimes which deny or outright reject their voice of pain and suffering.  These are the unsettling dynamics which undergird religious, economic and political realities of our day from which the terrorist arises.  Confronted by these complicated realities I am comforted by a profound grace and mercy which abound to me through Jesus Christ.  Thankful for the salvation provided me through his sacrifice, I find this question, “What should be the Christian’s response to the acts of the terrorist which seemingly characterize life today in a civil society for many people in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America?”  Frankly, I have no answers or prescriptions which might sooth my soul yet I believe that engaging these complex and evolving situations expresses some active hope that one-day life would not so much be an exhibition of tribalism and the politics of limitation at the feet of a materialism and its new found expression of technology characterized by some in our day as progress but a profoundly inclusive, sacred and holy imagination, the embodiment of love.  It is to that end that this essay is written.  

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”       Mk 12:30-31 (NRSV)

The words of Mark 12:30-31 remind us that a love which is rooted and grounded in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is called to console the one crying in the silence, the one consumed by agony and pain, fearful of a wilderness, and the othering of their soul. It is to comfort those who are unemployed, hungry, those who have lost loved ones through personal as well as structural violence of body, mind and spirit, their hopes seemingly dashed.  Beloved, love of neighbor, inclusive of enemy, is not about agreement or allegiance of philosophy and rhetoric but about a common humanity grounded in the love of God.  The logical act is to love and thus overcome, with a lasting power, those interlocking oppressions which would alienate and demean that common humanity.

In this light, those who would love, and this a matter of justice, are called to embrace a politics of care and concern, a narrative of compassion, the embodiment of Micah 6:8.  Their politics, as a means to express a civil society is to love a holy and sacred humanity. Their politics thus seeks to sooth the greatest desire of the soul, that is to experience justice.  Whatever power or policy justice must be its call.  That said, new times, new narratives call for new articulations of justice.  Articulations of justice are strategies employed to express certain desires of the soul.  To provide space for the fulfillment of imaginations formally sequestered.  They are strategies of survival to celebrate an authentic reality of being in the face of difficult concerns.  Articulations of justice are foundational to a social contract which is foundational to a civil society.  That said, justice, a critical element of a social contract, should be received as a means of living out those ties that bind disparate and distinctive cultures together.   Social Contract is an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection. Theories of a social contract became popular in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries among theorists such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as a means of explaining the origin of government and the obligations of subjects.[1]  That said, a rethinking of the social contract, within the U.S. context, particularly in light of a shifting demographics, within a discourse on articulation’s of justice demands an analysis of foundational elements which are the ground of a social contract.  In light of the processes and functions which seek to promote a civil society such as communities of faith, educational institutions, family, and law enforcement which historically has employed programs such as stop and frisk, a broken windows policy, including the tragic incidents that resulted in the death of innocent people of color dying at the hands of police departments throughout the nation, the social contract should be renegotiated to a more inclusive, holistic reality.

The other was never included or envisioned by those who initiated the contract.  The contract was exclusive to one and not to the other.  Fundamentally the social contract first expressed by Rousseau and other philosophers must be renegotiated and re-imagined towards an inclusive orientation. 

A renegotiation of the current social contract, this includes concerns of theological, ecological and economic import,  does not necessarily mean a wholesale rejection or denial of the status quo but it does mean that the current social contract which initially emerged out of a 17th century European context and adopted in the United States as a means to the viability of a master slave context which gradually evolved into realities of white supremacy and privilege and a denial of the humanity of the ‘other’ must be, in some sense, reconfigured to align with new and revolutionary articulations of justice.  A shifting demographics and a recasting of the grand narrative of love towards an inclusive institution is a tremendous opportunity to re-imagine a civil society that works for all people as a matter of sustainability and not a matter of “king of the hill” as is for some under the current social contract oriented towards the accumulation of wealth and material which have historically sustained a narrative of white supremacy and privilege.

The present state of political, economic and socio-cultural affairs is such that the concern at the root of the social contract, this from an ethical perspective, is the sustainability of as well as within a civil society.  Black Lives Matter (BLM), The Tea Party, and the rise of Donald Trump, including stirrings of racism, sexism, transphobia, bigotry and various forms of hatred, is each a result of a need to address the aforementioned concerns of sustainability as an emerging component of the social contract.  Of course, we don’t address the social contract, and its implications, separate from or absent of a discussion on globalization. 

Globalization has changed the rules, terms and conditions of the social contract necessarily causing significant consternation among those who traditionally and historically have benefited from a social contract which was primarily focused on maintaining their place of support.  The situation, now global, has given rise to extremist who play on the fears and anxieties of many people who seem to have lost hope.  Globalization, a multi-dimensional term defined as a process interconnectedness of the economies driven by investment and capital flows, change in technology and trade and liberation, should be a construct within a discourse on justice.  The question of concern at this point is, “Is Globalization compatible with social justice?”  This is a question posed by Sam Gindin, the Packer Chair in Social Science, Department of Political Science at York University in Toronto.  His question, in light of significant global tension as evidenced by the many people who have fallen for the complicated narrative of terrorism brings into stark view concerns of justice and the need to re-evaluate the social contract.

While this writer does not advocate or condone the actions of the terrorist, it is nevertheless considered that the terrorist should be, no, they must be received as a response to or product of empirical actions dictated by social, political and economic concerns of power inculcated or instilled within the narrow confines of a social contract reflective of wealth and material concerns of those privileged and complicit. The horrific violence which characterizes the actions of the terrorist must be considered a means to communicate, to cause those who hold some allegiance to this social contract to feel the pain and hopelessness that has engulfed their soul, seemingly eclipsing the hopes and dreams which formerly defined the life of the one who is now a terrorist.  How should globalization engage the discourse of terrorism, of the lost and oppressed, the disinherited?  What does this discourse look like particularly within the idea or concept of a civil society?

Reflecting on an interview conducted by Sara Reardon of Scott Atran, a noted anthropologist entitled “Looking for the roots of terrorism”[2]  in the online journal Nature, An International Weekly Journal of Science, the words which resonate throughout the interview are justice, care for the soul, and the criticality of Simon Weil’s words – “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”[3]  Weil’s words, though written in a letter to a friend in April 13, 1942, are no less powerful and no less necessary in our day.  Terrorism, within a discourse on attention and generosity, is a narrative determined by an extreme loss of identity, rejection and the inability to be seen and heard by those whose vision and hearing are framed and contoured by a social contract which doesn’t consider them or their humanity.  The question asked by the terrorist more and more is “Have you seen me? Do you comprehend my pain, my suffering?” Sadly, it would seem that those who benefit from the social contract seldom see or hear the plight of those in pain and suffering except through the actions of terror.

The terrorist exists because of a lack of vision framed and contoured in generosity and expressed by society except as determined by a narrowly determined social contract.  This has been the case particularly as evidenced by the racism, sexism and discrimination practiced here in the United States.  So in some sense terrorism is a product of a society who, for decades, fails to give the attention necessary for the soul and this same society lacks certain generosity towards those who are not beneficiaries of the social contract. That said, this writer does not deny certain responsibility and accountability regarding the actions of the terrorist yet to ignore, neglect or just cast aside the injustice which perpetrated the action would be to deny a particular dialogue that might take shape in pursuit of care of the soul.

The question posed at this moment in time to this writer is, “if a society practices exclusivity and neglect as a means toward economy and privilege is that society civil? This question elicits thoughts of a society brutal towards those who are the other, who are not a part of the social contract as determined. 

Based on the interviews of Scott Atran the terrorist would seem to be a most lonely person, dismissed by a culture and society who have no time for the care and concern of those who are not participants regarded by the social contract.  There is then a responsibility, even an accountability to alleviate this pain, to be free of continual suffering just as there is a responsibility to live out the social contract regardless of the pain inflicted upon those external to that social contract, to be safe and secure in the midst of a world of terror and uncertainty.  Indeed, this would seem to be an impasse.

Matthew 5:43-45

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons (and daughters) of your Father in heaven.

How should the Christian respond to the terrorist?  Jesus Christ has given the answer for the Christian.  “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons (and daughters of your Father in heaven.” How do we love, yes, really love as Jesus Christ has called us to love?  Is this love beyond human thought and phenomenon?  Is it practical? It is a truth that when one speaks they do not take their words or the hearing of their words without careful thought and intent.  The words of Jesus Christ are a gift to humanity because we, that is humanity, are capable of the love Jesus Christ espoused. We can love, this with abandon. Yet if humanity is capable of the love Jesus Christ espoused then why the impasse, why the violence which daily strikes at the soul?

There are times when answers deny the depth of the question, the hope intended for a soothing of one’s soul.  This is the case of a love which beckons the soul to a nourishment formerly without.   Love is not just about answers, which tends, because of hubris, to assuage the ego, but more so it is about oneness and healing, it’s about solidarity with the commonality of all humanity. It is more than justice yet inclusive of the same.  The complexities of this life with its many layered dynamics and dialogues demands that love be the primary locution of human interaction for it is love that will make away through the impasse.  Without love what then is a civil society but a mere menagerie of conflicting ideologies and sorted politics.  The horrific violence of the early 21st century make an understanding of love and social justice urgent matters of concern.  

Engaging the issues which so easily beset humanity and her institutions I am reminded of the power that assumes desires and concerns within global constructs.  Power, which should be utilized for the betterment and justice of humanity, to release those better angels is conceived as a destabilizing force necessary for the maintenance of controlling structures.  Power seeks to maintain power.  Institutions are not for the sustainability of a humanity which developed the institution but more so these institutions are a means to express the power of the state and corporate desires. Love, justice and even compassion are necessary fabrications toward a maintenance of those structures.  So, while on the one hand the institutions provide some sustenance to the citizen and the hopefully the refugee the institutions inclusive of the military industrial complex and civilian corporations would seek to be the master of their destiny which is a concern of the terrorist. 

Terrorism is not primarily about the act of terrorizing for the sake of terrorizing but should be received as a denial, rejection or throwing off of totalitarian institutional corporate power.  Terrorism is particularly antithetical to this power as defined by the social contract.  That said, it should be considered a critique for those who would receive such a critique.  As I, a Christian minister, engages terrorism as a critique of this power, a reality of the state regime, I find that terrorism is, for some, a means to hope, even to liberation and a means to heaven.  In this sense the cross of the crucifixion becomes the succinct offer, the embodiment of terrorism, as it is, at least for me, the ultimate critique of the state.  Indeed, to equate the Crucifixion of Jesus with terrorism, for some, might be unsettling.

According to an article written by Steve Mansfield entitled Torture and the Killing of Jesus in the Huffington Post of December 12, 2014, the crucifixion of Jesus was a state terror.  The crucifixion was capital punishment for those considered insurgent, an enemy of the state.  From the perspective of the Roman state, i.e. Pontius Pilate, Jesus, his disciples and by implication the movement were a profound danger, a threat to the regime of the emperor.  That said, there was fear at the highest levels of the Roman power structure that to kill Jesus would make him a martyr thus creating a spectacle that would give rise to a revolt, necessarily destabilizing the power structure in Judea and surrounding areas.  The power of the martyrdom of Jesus, as a socio-political as well as a religious event, cannot be overstated for it was his martyrdom which eventually transitioned the Roman empire by 400 A.D.[4] from paganism to Christianity with Emperor Constantine converting to Christianity in 312-313 C.E.[5]

I find myself somewhat conflicted on the matter.  According to Gerald Seymour in his 1975 book Harry's Game, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” I ask then, “Should the crucifixion be received in that light.” Should I re-evaluate my theological position on terrorism and the terrorist?  I suppose in some sense this re-evaluation might be a study in perspectives on power and the critique of power as means towards narratives of control, sustainability, and those hopes which nourish the soul and/or to a lesser extent the ego.   How, then should I look at the terrorist attacks in Europe, Israel-Palestine, Turkey, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, Libya; the Middle East, and places formerly of the Ottoman Empire? Difficult indeed as these particular situations emerge from a complex discourse on colonization, remanences of the “white man’s burden” an ode to American Imperialism and its sub-discourse on the strategic, associated economics and displacement of people from homelands inhabited for 100’s or even thousands of years and unsettled grievances. 

In the Wednesday, August 10, 2016 issue of the New York Time Magazine there was an in-depth analysis of issues, concerns, and challenges of the Middle East written by Scott Anderson entitled Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart.  The article delves into the historical reasons for fractured lands and its people and current political-military policy which continue to maintain control over the Middle East begun in earnest by the European powers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Today as I remember my time in the military in support of long standing agreements among the western powers to control the Middle East I am mindful of the ideology and the rhetoric of politicians, and the men and woman of the Military Industrial Complex, the surrogates for concerns of military and economic domination.

Christ calls me to love.  To that end I believe the Christian is called to be a critical thinker, to study and analyze the situation, the context. To express that love, to be intentional, for Christ, himself was one of intention. (Ephesians 1:9)   In that light, I ask, “Can that which was a burden, and in some cases a murderer of a fractured and its people and once again be the hope in the midst of the fracturing initiated by the Western powers?” Mindful of the journey of the Apostle Paul formerly Saul[6], a former murderer of Christians, I am compelled based on the life of the Apostle Paul to say yes, it is possible and very necessary.   

Beginning to think in a different way requires us to take different positions on the subject of knowing: to open up spaces for new ways of thinking and to consider our own thinking in terms of how our goals affect our perceptions.

                                                                                                                                                Ivone Gebara[7]   

I have become convinced through my journey of gender, sexuality and race that a way, a method, if you will, which accomplishes a critical analysis of theological interpretations, the constructs which are the foundation of social, cultural and political policy positions. The goal of this method must be on the one hand a deconstruction of interpretations which deny the full and unmitigated participation of all people in a social contract. To delink modes, notions, and methods of material and production as means towards a fulfillment of the social contract from the supremacy of one group or community. There must be a rethinking of imagination, forms, processes, structures, actions founded and grounded in colonization and the desires of white supremacy.  I suggest that the goal to change the mind and thus make space for a different imagination is one of generational discourse.

As a Christian minister and a transgender woman grounded in Christ, whose theology is life giving, life affirming, seeking to love all of creation, this from a postcolonial perspective, my response is not so much an answer or prescription but a means for you, the reader, to engage your own response, if you choose, to the terrorist.  That said, the terrorist present the well meaning, those who desire to love with serious challenges and difficulties indeed and maybe there is no way, no method to undo the wrong done.  The sobering of this profoundly sad circumstance calls me to prayer and this without ceasing.  

[1] accessed August 1, 2016
[3] From an April 13, 1942 letter to poet Joƫ Bousquet, published in their collected correspondence (Correspondence [Lausanne: Editions l'Age d'Homme, 1982], p. 18).
[7] Ivone Gebara, Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 21.