No Shitholes In the Eyes of Jesus

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When God put Jesus in Mary's womb, He knew He would be from Nazareth. And He knew that Nathanael would proclaim, "Nazareth?!? Can anything good come from there?". Moreover, when Jesus chose to walk through Samaria, He knew of the hatred, strife and anger between the Jews and the Samaritans. He knew that the Jews thought them to be heretics, inferior human beings and wholly unworthy of the Love of God. Finally, when Saul was converted to Paul on the road to Damascus and sent to the Gentiles, God knew that the Jewish people did not believe them to be worthy of salvation or relationship with Him. And for preaching this, He knew Paul would be killed.

We see over and over again that neighborhoods, countries, and even people groups are shitholes to political and religious leaders but to Jesus, these are only places and people in need of radical inclusion into the family of God. Fortunately, Presidents did not form the children of Haiti,  El Salvador and Cameroon in their mothers' wombs. The forefathers of the United States are not the Fathers of Creation. And so the description that God spoke when He formed humanity for the first time, "VERY GOOD" is still true for my brothers and sisters who hold residence in Honduras and Morocco. Trump is not God and the United States is not Heaven. The Constitution is not the Holy Bible. And that is where our value, dignity, and worthy were decided.

The United States can make laws but it cannot confer value on humanity, nor can it take it away. Senators, Representatives and elected officials can disagree with Trump, but if they root their argument in a plaque on the Statue of Liberty then their words are not strong enough to break the binds of racial and economic oppression and white supremacy.  The only power that destroys the dividing walls of hostility is the resurrection of Jesus and an uncomparable, uncompromising invitation to Holy Family of God. 

May followers of Jesus embrace their positions of power and influence and leverage them for the flourishing of all people and the reflection of the Kingdom of God; and the destruction of any power that would come against it through generosity, sacrificial love, and prayerful, compassionate resistance. From the pulpit to the pew and from park benches to boardrooms would the Good News of Jesus be proclaimed that there are no shitholes in this world and every person is made in the image of God to flourish, work, rule and create. It does not matter what those with earthly wealth and power do or say, because their power is no match for the power of God. 

Jesus, come in power and authority and give us courage to love those who are constantly pressed down by those in positions of earthly power. Give us strength to persevere, ears to hear your voice, eyes to see the family You are creating, and discernment to know our part. Hallelujah and Amen. 

The Problem at H&M Isn't Just a Hoodie, It's Human Trafficking

The real problem with H&M is not just that they make advertisements that put dark-skin children in hoodies that are historically offensive.  

The real problem is that they pay for cotton picked by children and pay children to knit cotton to put that hoodie together. And then have no problem with a child in America throwing that hoodie away after wearing it only a few times and another child picking it up in a third world country after its donated under-cutting their local economy and cutting wages for artisans native to that child's community. If we want to boycott H&M, boycott them for supporting modern-day Slavery, environmental degradation, and sustaining cycles of poverty through low wages and shifting of blame and responsibility. Boycott them for prioritizing profits over people and the planet on a global, intentional scale to maximize their bottom lines. Boycott them for doing whatever it takes to protect their image and brand, and not communities of color, the poor, and the marginalized. 

And maybe, they'll change because the only reason that H&M makes hoodies like this one is because you and I continue to buy them.

To boycott H&M though won't stop the exploitation of people and the planet that puts children in fields, factories, or even commercials. The boycott that needs to happen is against our constant choosing to look the other way because we are looking at a deal for a sweatshirt or cute pair of jeans.  There is no question here that you should boycott H&M. The reason you should though is not because of the ignorance and insensitivity of their advertising department but of an entire industry's insistence on supporting the trafficking of human beings and destruction of the planet. To learn more about how you can purchase differently to change the world, click here.

And would you pray this prayer with me with our purchases in mind. 

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen

Finding Hope in 2018

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It is difficult for me to get excited about 2018. When I look at my life, the lives of those around me, and those that I am in relationship with, I have substantial fear, frustration and uncertainty. What dominates my outlook is the presence of suffering and pain downstream of unacknowledged, unaddressed, and unprocessed neglect and hurt. Around the world, I lament the plight of Royhinga muslims in Bangladesh and Myanmar, children in Yemen and Syria and those suffering on Ukraine's border with Russia. Around our country walls of division are being built and fortified between genders, faiths, classes and political affiliations. Among my friends and family, addiction, poverty and the intentional and unintentional busyness of life don't make space for reconciliation and closeness.  These things didn't disappear because the ball dropped in Times Square.

I wanted to feel hopeful though.  I wanted to look into the eyes of my wife at midnight and say, Happy New Year with nothing but joy in my eyes. I couldn't do that though so I just went to sleep. 

On January 1, I wanted to rise with anticipation of something different and new. On January 2, I longed for it. But it wasn't until January 5th that I put some words to it and on the 7th sitting in the sanctuary of New Life Fellowship did I have a clear picture of Jesus' invitation. 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His Glory and Grace

This song plus the first line of another famous hymn that says, "my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness" are poetic reflections of the present day that moved from theory and song to felt reality for me. When I asked at the prompting of our pastor,  "God, what are you up to?" And "how can I help?" - you bet I got excited about 2018! God is doing amazing things all over in my family. In our home, Maia can say her name, Priscilla and I are growing in our love for and communication with one another and we are uncovering what type of family we want to be.  Professionally, her school is MOVING fast as she interviews candidates and searches for a building. My book's first draft is done and RecWeek is around the corner. We both are immensely blessed with jobs that allow us to bear witness to Jesus in real and indentifiable ways. Hallelujah and amen!

Perhaps, this is what it looks like when I put my hope in a world that is destined to disappoint versus the kingdom of God whose Savior will always satisfy.  

I am accepting that I will never read the news and not see another group under threat of being uprooted and subject to deportation.  I am accepting that there will always be those who are rich that hoard wealth and opportunity for themselves and exclude those they don't deem worthy of the same treatment.  I hold all of this and more in tension with the reality that every day there are people making space in neighborhoods for those without homes and room around tables for those without food. I look at the socially acceptable and even encouraged selfishness and remember the radical generosity of every day people choosing justice over more comfort. The Devil is real and he is busy, but so is Our Good, Good Father. Therefore I too will ask God, "What are you up to?" and "how can I help?"

And, I won't lose hope when I look at the world because my hope won't be in it. It will be planted firmly in the Kingdom of God. I invite you to do the same and live into the hymns we grew up singing; or sing them for the first time and live into their truth. 

DACA, Charlottesville, Harvey...What Can Be Done?

Since Trump was elected there has been a significant amount of anger in marginalized communities. That's because it is easier to angry than it is to be sad and afraid. There is sadness at the fragility of our lives with Hurricanes like Harvey, incidents like Charlottesville and fear at the immense instability with decisions like the one to end DACA. Especially among our minority, impoverished and immigrant neighbors this fear of violence and discrimination is not imagined or made up but real every day - including those in our churches, on our campuses, and staff teams. 

Specifically concerning DACA, InterVarsity is a ministry to faculty students and staff, many of whom are not from the United States. And still many who are undocumented, brought here as children. This is not just an issue IN Intervarsity, this IS Intervarsity. Some IV Staff are immigrants, were undocumented and have family, donors and friends who are undocumented. Undocumented students are small group leaders, chapter presidents, and need Jesus on campus. We have alumni and donors who are able to flourish because of DACA and just immigration decisions. If you are a pastor or small group leader reading this - this is true of you and those under your leadership as well. 

If we do not respond in obedience to Jesus, we are not living into our identity as ministers of reconciliation following Jesus in word, deed and power to reach every nation with the Good News of Jesus Christ by the power of Holy Spirit. Christians are no longer sons and daughters of disobedience and therefore are His workmanship looking more and more like Jesus every day. Thus seeking justice and loving mercy are an outworking of His reconciliation with us through Christ

IMPORTANT NOTE* We do not need to have the same views on comprehensive immigration reform, agree on amnesty or a path to citizenship or be members of the same political party to love the stranger and immigrant in our midst. God does not invite us to be unanimous, He commands us to be obedient.  Christians are to respond to scripture and follow Jesus as Lord. Our citizenship in the Kingdom of God overrules our citizenship to nation or state. Our allegiance to the Kingdom of God is above that of our allegiance to the United States and any country at all times if we are followers of Jesus. And, as InterVarsity Staff and ministers of the Gospel, responding to the needs of those among us is NOT OPTIONAL, but necessary. We will be known by the fruit that we bear and be held eternally accountable to how we care for those in need. 

Some practical ways to practice and lead students and the university community in the ministry of reconciliation particularly around DACA are here: 

1. There is real fear, sadness, pain, anger, shock, disappointment and other unprocessed emotions that must be brought to Jesus in communities that will listen, empathize, and receive. Here are exercises that can facilitate that: 

  • Writing yourself into scripture (Psalm Exercise): Bring your emotions to God with the Psalms as model and cry out to Him.
  • Teach Us How to Pray: Walk through the pattern of how Jesus taught us to pray and bring this pain, lament and desire for something MORE to God in prayer and worship. 
  • Lament, Confess, Repent, Reconcile: This is the process of coming alongside those who are suffering and marginalized. These 4 steps in community with others in the midst of crisis are a pattern that we can faithfully follow with Christ at the center. 

2. Get to know the stranger in your midst. 

3. There is no reconciliation without displacement. We must stand in solidarity with those who are victims of misuse and abuse of power using our power to work on their behalf.

  • 4P's: Pray, Purchase, Partner, Policy is the process we use to identify how we are to respond to the needs of those around us in word, deed and power w/ Jesus at the center. For a more robust explanation, visit here
  • This article by Cristina Cleveland is also extremely helpful in discerning next steps as we enter into the lives of those who are suffering. 

I pray that these resources bless you, your ministry and those who are before you. If you are a pastor or small group leader, these resources are also for you and you are free to use them for your congregation and context. 

Finally, we serve a God that is bigger than injustice, Sovereign over the chaos, and holds all things together. Would your weapon in the midst of all suffering be unyielding praise to the Only Wise God, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by the power of Holy Spirit. 

If you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to reach out to nycurbanproject@gmail.com.

Alt-Right, Alt-Left & Alt-Jesus

Following Jesus is to be in constant resistance to the patterns of this world. It is to invite the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and God to sit on throne of our hearts. God Almighty is our love, peace, joy, peace, strength and identity at all times. Especially in times of violence, stress, abuse and dishonesty. Especially in times when White Supremacists march with lawn furniture turned hate symbol through campus grounds at night, past the marked and unmarked graves of slaves, chanting praise and worship to Whiteness. Especially when we see bodies flying through the air and laid out in the street after a car plows through them like a live obstacle course. That's what he probably thought "those people" were - obstacles. Those in this driver's path were opponents to a way of life more precious than the breath in their lungs and the working of their limbs. Especially when statues fall by political choice or by social force and those people rejoice and those other people mourn. Especially when Deandre Harris is beaten by a mob and Heather Heyer, Berke Bates and Jay Cullen are dead. Lord have mercy.

I am from Virginia, applied and was accepted to UVA and went to summer camps in Charlottesville on that campus. Close friends of mine are clergy, ministers and community members. My brother is a pastor there and his wife and 6 month old daughter live in the city limits. What does #PrayerfulResistance look like when I'm terrified, angry, and full of rage. What does Emotionally Healthy Activism that is spiritually mature look like when I feel invisible, disposable, weak, and hopeless more often than not. The powerlessness is paralyzing and I am on the verge of tears when I see someone with my skin color on the subway, go on Twitter, or hear the president speak. 

I believe it looks the same as after Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Terence Crutcher, Martin Luther King, Jr, Emmet Till, Jesus Christ, and every other unnamed but deeply loved person made in the image of God crushed under the weight of oppression. I believe it looks the same the first time I learned about the Rape of Nanking, Mao & Stalin's violence, the Trail of Tears, and the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I believe it is the same as when look into the eyes of a former child soldier, sex slave and forced laborer. 

I also believe it is the same as when I looked into the eyes of a white supremacist who called me a N-----, the soldier glad to kill "cockroaches" in Iraq, the business owner who exploits his workers, and the political leader who is corrupt. I believe it is the same as the young man who told me hit his girlfriend, the other who cheated on his wife, and the other who lost his virginity in a brothel; and went back more than once. 

I am to live full of the spirit and wisdom, obedient to death, even death on a Cross in living testimony to the reconciliation and renewal of all things through Jesus Christ, by the power of Holy Spirit to the Glory of God the Father and for our eternal benefit. I am to be full of compassion as Christ abides even more deeply in me. I am to be angry and resist but not sin, forgive as I've been forgiven and be a messenger of Reconciliation through Christ, preaching first that He reconciled me. This is the peace that surpasses all understanding, a love that I comprehend and the freedom I long to bear witness to.

There are those of us who say "yes" to this death. This dying to self-interest, self-centering, self-everything and NO to striving for some sort of comfort, stability and security in the racism, materialism, militarism and sexuality to live in the light, love and lordship of Jesus. And those who say, "I will do this myself." There are those two sides today and there will be those two sides tomorrow. There are only sheep and goats.

Wherever you are today, I would ask - who is Your Shepherd? And if you want it to be Jesus, ask where you have been disobedient and confess. He is just to forgive us. Then, receive His love, grace and truth. He loves you and there is nothing you can do - good or bad - to change that. In Isaiah 6, we see that after confession there is always blessing.

If you are your own Shepherd, captain of your own ship, lord of your own life I invite you to do precisely the same thing.

We are to lament, confess, repent and reconcile in obedient love to Jesus - whether or not Trump is President, whoever is atop the racial hierarchy, wherever we are on the social ladder.

We can Pray, Purchase, Partner and influence Policy in a way that lines up with Jesus' teaching. And if we stop and listen, He will lead us.

Three Learnings from NYCUP Summer 2017

I have never been more proud of a group of students than the 10 participants in NYCUP Summer 2017. They pressed into familial, relational, and social turmoil to hear from Jesus and seek His kingdom. Whether it was on the street with NYC Relief, in cubicles at Van Heusen, editing book proposals, or washing the dishes, I was privileged to witness the Lord at work in the hearts of the students and staff. I would love to celebrate the following key turns that will shape NYCUP for years to come! 

Book Proposals Going Forward! 12 Lies That Hold America Together has been accepted by InterVarsity Press and Emotionally Healthy Activist received extremely positive feedback from Pete Scazzero. Both of these proposals will be moving forward in 2017-2018.

LoGOFF is Officially a Corporation! LoGOFF, the parent company to Good Journey Stores officially filed for incorporation. 

Moving from a Christian Clique to a Covenant Community A proposal has been drafted for review by InterVarsity National to make what we do at NYCUP a formal part of our national movement. 

Third Successful Year of Let's Talk Avodah Our 7 weeks of discipleship around faith and work was a great success with our partners at the Lambs Church. If we are able to find a strong candidate, we will expand this to a year-round program! 

Those People Media Pilot. Our media pilot focused on (re)conciliation was profoundly successful. Podcasts, long form stories, and videos are in production for release this fall. 

Along with these mountaintop moments, came deep formation in conflict. Here are three learnings from our 50 days of #PrayerfulResistance. 

To Be Present is Necessary and Exhausting

As I mentioned during RecWeek 2017 and our 40 Days of Prayerful Resistance, there is invisible, unprocessed pain all around us. Rage and sadness right seem to be right under the surface for so many people; and if we feel seen, heard, and safe it just might come out. In addition to that, to be fully present and emotionally available to ourselves and those around us in joy and sorrow is exhausting and necessary to be fully human. I have no idea how Christ endured the knowledge of heaven in the presence of the Trinity and the depths of suffering in this world.  My prayer, as reminded by one of our interns this summer is Lord Jesus, may Your joy be my strength. 

My Identity is Still in My Productivity

I feel most seen, felt, heard, valued, validated, trusted, and celebrated when I work. Likes on Facebook, followers on Twitter, shares on our Facebook pages, text messages, phone calls, and verbal affirmation feed and stroke my ego. Being needed and wanted dictates how I see myself. This was no more evident than in the middle of our NYCUP Summer programming where I realized I scheduled 65 hours of work for myself. 

As I sat with Katie and Josh (two interns), after being challenged by my wife to have integrity around a sustainable Rule of Life, I had to confess that I didn't know why I made this schedule. It takes Holy Spirit to convict of sin. I can't just figure it out. So as I spent time with Jesus, I realized that once again, I sought to abide in my work instead of Christ. I seek to prune myself, not to be refined by Holy fire. I would rather listen to a Ted Talk than sit in the presence of the Lord and wait for the voice of the Living God.

To paraphrase Olivia, one of our interns, what if I was able to find my identity apart from my accomplishments and accolades.  What if I was truly able to live out of my adoption into the family of God? Lord have mercy, my life would be so different. 

If I'm pursuing my Identity through productivity then I can't pursue Jesus or my wife. 

And if I pursue my identity in accolades I cannot participate authentically in relationships. I cannot nurture a life with God or cultivate a spirituality that can sustain genuine engagement with myself and others. Instead, I will slave away to construct and maintain a false self that feigns for praise from those around me. Instead of a blessing, I become a parasite, doing good things for praise instead of serving to make Jesus famous. 

My students, friends, wife and child reside downstream of a man focused on building his best self so they get nothing or just leftovers from me while I beg them for their best. I convert myself reputation into a golden calf that needs constant praise, lest I feel insignificant, disposable and unworthy. Lord have mercy. 

Next Steps for Me

In the coming season, I must develop a rule of life that roots my identity in Christ and allow me to live sacrificially out of the sacrifice of Jesus. To do otherwise is to live in rebellion and disobedience. 

At the same time, I must pray for God's provision of people and resources to bring the right people to help our work become truly sustainable. By inviting other people into this work, I live out the truth that I am not Jesus and this work is not contingent solely on me but obedience and submission to Jesus. How beautiful it would be to truly make His name famous instead of my own! 

Thanks to all of your prayers, support and generosity! If you would like to join our prayer and intercession list, please email nycurbanproject@gmail.com. And, if you would like to give towards the hiring of new staff, please click here

How Much Is a Black Life Worth?

When Philando Castile's settlement popped up on my newsfeed, I had one question. How much is .a black life worth? If no one is at fault, why are they receiving any money. 

I am from rural Southern, Virginia. It's possible that my great-great-grandfather and mother were sold in Emporia, Richmond, or Lynchburg. I wonder how much their black bodies were worth to those who sought to dehumanize them with each bid on the auction block. My people aren't traded anymore, at least not in plain sight. But it seems there is a different system at work where people of color and European Americans who are poor can be killed, their murderers dismissed or put on leave, and then a price tag ascribed to the act of killing. This is the cost of protecting the system.

It cost $50,000 to kill Cecil the Lion. And Harambe was killed for someone getting into his cage. It's not easy for me to think of myself and my brothers and sisters as more than animals. The outrage when these animals died outweighed any outrage for Sandra Bland. It's hard not to feel insignificant when we are converted into hashtags that are no longer trending.

Charleena Lyles was killed because she asked for help. The officer's fear and the system's maintenance is more important than her life and the lives of her children. When Cecil the Lion was killed, we demanded a country prosecute that lion's killer. But instead of indicting individuals, we write checks to protect our officers and institutions. 

Philando Castile's family got $3 Million.

Michael Brown's family got $1.5 Million.

Walter Scott's family got $6.4 Million.

Freddie Gray's family got $6.5 Million.

Eric Garner's family got $5.9 Million.

Danroy Henry, Jr.'s family got $6 Million. 

Tamir Rice's family got $6 Million. 

So I guess if an officer fears for his life when I'm pulled over or enters my home because I called for help and I am killed, an insurance company will write my wife a check for at least $3 Million a few years later. And since Chicago has paid $662 million in police misconduct settlements since 2004, I guess black lives are not worth more than that in Illinois.

Is there a budget set aside for police misconduct more appropriately called murder, abuse, sexual assault and neglect? I'm sure that insurance companies and risk management lawyers have equations and different plans that our city, state and federal governments purchase. I wonder what cities pay the highest premiums to be protected from financial responsibility for killed people who look like me. I wonder but I really don't want to know. 

Lord have mercy.

God of all comfort, comfort we who mourn. Deliver we who are afflicted. Silence the voice of the accuser and bring us perfect peace. We who are made in Your image receive your invitation into Your family and wait patiently for Your return when we can go home. Amen. 

How To Minimize Black People & Hinder the Spread of the Gospel

As a person of color living, serving, and leading inside and outside the body of Christ, I am deeply wounded by the responses I’ve received—particularly from fellow gospel workers—to my grief over the gross injustices perpetrated against ethnic minorities in America and around the world. I’ve heard that “we’re already doing so much” or, even more offensive, that “this isn’t central to the gospel.”  Lastly, and probably the most insidious and hurtful, "we just don't have enough information". We don't need more information to mourn with those who mourn.  God deeply loves and values all people, but this truth is not being communicated, and it’s this disconnect that grieves my soul.

Black people are in pain. Communities of color are fearful and sad. We are weary from the constant threat of ostracism and unwarranted violence in communities of color. This is not unlike the fear and pain of our Latinx brothers and sisters living under threat of deportation.  But because mass media perpetuates polarization and fosters fear, and because our pastors and leaders follow comfort, power, and money instead of the crucified and risen King, conversations about our pain, sadness, and weariness turn instead to logistics, priorities, and the allocation of resources.  

It is excruciating to have my pain turned into an undone task on a to-do list, slide off an agenda, and be left out of a strategic plan. Somehow, modeling reconciliation for students, faculty, congregants, and non-believers is seen as superfluous compared to the "more essential" parts of following Jesus like prayer, studying the Bible, and evangelism. But reconciliation and biblical justice must be central to our Christian witness because the Christ whom we are called to bear witness is the only cure for racism and injustice.  What is prayer without intercession for those who are suffering and marginalized? What is evangelism if the faith we share doesn't include freedom from oppression? What is Bible study if we are not going to look at the context of the people writing and those who the text is written for? This is not Christianity and we are not following the Jesus of scripture. This is White American Folk Religion* - a race-based, nationalistic, widely held set of beliefs that masquerades as true Christian faith but nothing to do with Jesus of Nazareth.

When systemic racial issues arise, how quickly I am turned from an individual into an issue and my pain and needs put to a vote as part of a proposal which meets the three criteria for effective evangelism. I am not a ministry goal and my people are not a project. I desire to be seen and heard, and my pain felt. Instead, my pain and I have been explained away to maintain comfort, order, and the status quo for those in power.

But if you want to hinder the spread of the gospel by minimizing the significance of my ethnic identity, here’s how it works:

  1. Your response is to ask for more information or get the whole story, not to sympathize, empathize, show compassion or ask how you can help in this moment when unarmed Black man or woman are killed by police or their murderers not held accountable (or a Black church is burned, or an ignorant statement is made by a peer or leader, or…).
  2. Instead you respond with apathy, mistrust or animosity, which in turn I will feel invisible, misunderstood and distant. My pain and the pain of my community is minimized and my perspective dismissed.
  3. Next, I will then feel unsafe sharing my whole self with you. I’ll begin to change my posture toward you. I’ll stop sharing honestly and openly. Instead I will share with my own community and those I know will stand with me. Unconsciously or consciously, you will no longer be a part of that group.
  4. It’s important to know that if you keep acting this way and allow the insensitivity to continue unchecked, I will close off more and more; but I won't be able to share that with you fearing rejection and further hurt. Your lament, confession, repentance and invitation to share more will reverse this trend but I won't ask for it. I will wait in hope/hopelessness that you will take the first step.
  5. If nothing changes, to protect myself and others from the same pain and frustration, I will share my experience with my community and let them know they won’t be heard by you. Slowly people of color around you will distance themselves and share less because the rejection and dismissal is too painful to enter into again and again. This looks like me leaving your small group or church because i'm "too busy" or "things always come up" or "unfriending on Facebook". 
  6. As this narrative runs its course, the love to which we are made to bear witness will be drowned out by silent and accepted division that can't be bridged. The Christian community that we are supposed to be a part of breaks into segregated cliques of Christians that are "together" but not touching like dishes at a buffet. 

Fortunately, when Eric Garner was killed in New York City, the above narrative did not have the opportunity to run its course. Three senior leaders in InterVarsity modeled what it looks like to be sensitive to the four Black male staff in my area. Space was made for us to share and be heard—not fixed, redirected, or given tissues as we cried. We were listened to by our multiethnic staff team. One of the leaders checked in with me daily. I had the sacred space to feel pain and then propose changes that were integrated into our ministry in the winter and spring. For the first time in my life, I was seen for all of the gifts I have and the burdens I carry. I was seen and heard by those who worked alongside me.

I believe it is the chief work of ministers of the gospel of Christ to do evangelism daily, reflect shalom, and in word and deed invite others to confess sin and follow Jesus by modeling a surrendered life daily. I am on staff with InterVarsity and long to see students of every ethnicity, race, and culture grow in love for God, God’s Word, and all people. I am deeply committed to the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us by Jesus, and I am deeply grateful that I serve on a team that wants the same thing.

*Note: this piece was originally posted here and updated after the acquittal of the officer that murdered Philando Castile and the morning after Charleena Lyles was killed by officers in Seattle. 

Three Questions from 40 Days of #PrayerfulResistance

God spoke at RecWeek 2017! I learned from students, staff and the city. You can see those discoveries here. But I also had three puzzles! Feel free to comment below and let's get a dialogue going. 

Our way of life is unsustainable, oppressive and inconsistent with the kingdom of God; and as critical as we are of the "system", we are even more complicit in it. We can't speak with one another as evidenced by our facebook feeds, reading lists (or lack of) and divisive speech. I say "we" because I am not exempt.  I am young, but the number of people I meet who simply can not communicate their thoughts and feelings in a coherent and consistent way knows no age limit or minimum. And, since dialogue especially across differences is what can humanize those around us is breaking down, exploiting the "other" around the corner and around the world seems to be accelerating. The wealthy, powerful and those seeking to be like them is not a group that seems to be getting smaller; but those willing to worship at the altar of selfish ambition and material prosperity is growing. In fact, I believe the last election was a doubling down of the integration of false american gospel into the supposed way Christians are supposed to live which leads to my second puzzle. So many questions...

How will 80% of White evangelicals compromise the witness of white Christians to women, the poor and communities of color?

South Western Theological Seminary's recent photo and Donald Trump's admission of sexual assault is the reason why I and many others are suspicious, afraid, and angry.

The institutional American church seemed to push all its chips to the center of the table and go "all-in" on materialism, militarism and racism. If MLK sought to raise and change the values of this country, then his assassination and post-1968 backlash was a signal that this was not the way America wanted to go. And similarly, if Barack Obama was an attempt to make some sort of progress out of racism, then Donald Trump was a reminder that the racial hierarchy in this country is alive and well. 

Therefore if I as a committed follower of Jesus, working in a predominantly white evangelical institution am having a hard time reconciling the political/social stances of my brothers and sisters that God called me to, how much more can my brothers and sisters without this call be struggling?  There seems to be an emerging fork in the road that the powerful and the powerless are moving towards but Jesus is calling us to a "Third Way" that only a remnant will take. And those folks won't be one race, ethnicity or class, but those willing to confess, repent and be reconciled of all backgrounds for we have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23). 

With that said, I've got one more puzzle...

How can the world distinguish followers of Jesus from those following White American Folk Religion who worship at the altar of racism, materialism, militarism and sexuality -- when we don't read the bible and refuse to be in community with those who are different from us?

I truly wonder what revival looks like when we (Christians in America) don't study scriptures regularly, pray and intercede, or live justly and generously as the norm.  What I do know is that I long for this and more and know that many others do as well. It was overwhelmingly evident that a holy discontent is swelling throughout our two months of programming.

This is because it's out in the open that America is segregated by race, class and increasingly ideology and level of education. Sexual assault and misogyny are left unchecked and victims blamed for the violence against them. The "church" sadly is no different. Yet, when I look at the scriptures, the 12 disciples and the Acts Church did not depict these divisions. In fact, when those divisions arose, there were concrete actions to press against the culture of the day in Acts 2, 6, 10 and Galatians 2. This was the foundation for our "Moving from Christian Clique to Covenant Community" conversation. 

What became abundantly clear throughout our workshops with about 200 people over 6 weeks from all classes, races, and backgrounds was that no one was satisfied with his or her church, small group and what one author calls this "prep group for participation in the evangelical sub culture". God is stirring something genuine, worshipful and Holy Spirit-driven. 

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, covet your prayers, and am grateful for your prayers and partnerships. 

Three Learnings from 40 Days of #PrayerfulResistance

There is invisible pain all around us and we embrace the privilege of moving on when Jesus did not. 

Jackie* was assaulted by her boyfriend, blamed for it by her divorced parents and her Christian male friends did not come to her defense but joined in the chorus of people wondering if it was her fault too. Bethany* feels uncomfortable talking about race but wants to. Her father and sister aren't talking anymore because of Black Lives Matter and she knows that Jesus desires for there to be peace but has no idea what peacemaking actually looks like. Rebecca* was raped by a high school classmate who is now a student at her college. She is afraid for herself and for her classmates. 

The above stories are stark reminders of the present and past invisible wounds that scar those we see every day. The pain is beneath the surface but drives so much of what we do/don't do each day including but not limited to the professions we pursue, who we attempt to be friends with, who we avoid and who we want/don't want to marry. And apart from an encounter with Jesus, whoever has the privilege of moving on will look away or not look at all upon those people that he/she deems unworthy of the same love, care, concern and value that he/she may feel entitled to. There is no program, event, or argument that will compel the type of sacrificial love necessary to transform one's heart from one of stone to one of flesh.

We are asking the wrong questions.

And because we all have unprocessed pain, sadness, fear, and rejection we are asking the wrong questions. There isn't a safe space with safe people to dive deep so our genuine and sincere connections with others are few and far between but longed for. This is true of college students, the parents who sent them to university, and the professors who are supposed to teach them. The level of emotional unhealth and masking of our frailty impales our ability to truly connect. I am guilty of this in one specific and critical way. My fear of rejection and need for affirmation drives my generosity and not a genuine desire to help others. God, forgive me. 

Thus our questions about racism and poverty are surface level, distant and often formulaic. We work to reform a system without re-forming ourselves. We ask about what someone does or wants to do? We don't ask whom he/she would like to become or what happened to them that this is now their goal. And if we do ask those questions and he/she is unable to answer in our desired time frame, we don't have/make the time to unearth what's under the surface that they may discover it for themselves. We have to get to the next thing.

Our advice becomes general and non-specific filled with Christianese catchphrases or hashtagged tweets. We don't listen to people but instead invite them to listen to a podcast. Of this, I am also guilty, fearing that I would have to be vulnerable, sacrifice my facade, and be exposed as imperfect. 

It is easier to blame or dismiss than to take responsibility. 

And since we have unprocessed pain and hurt, they compound into an emotional inaccessibility so we seek out the latest Ted Talk and not a time of confession. We ask over and over again, "what can I do next?", not "why did I do that?" or "why did that happen to me?" This lack of confession leads to a "Christian" and others who live in Judeo-Christian framework never experiencing the grace of God and His blessing in the midst of our sin. It is true that we can only appreciate the wonder of the Cross and love of God to the measure that we can contemplate our own suffering. Consequently, since we receive little or no grace, we cannot extend it to others. Thus we blame, point fingers and criticize projecting our view of the god we serve onto others and not the One True God - Father, Son, Holy Spirit. 

And it is these three thoughts that lead me into a time of repentance, confession, and a re-sending from God into the ministry of reconciliation. Please read my "Confessions of a Black Christian Activist" here. 

Confessions of a Black Christian Activist

I must confess that when I sit in circles of White and Asian people studying the Bible, I carry fear, suspicion and judgment. When I sit in churches surrounded by those who don't look like me, I am guarded in almost every way. I overexplain my thoughts because I fear being judged and misunderstood. I make sure to state my reasons for being present and my accomplishments and qualifications.  My primary goal is to not fulfill what I judge to be their stereotypes of me in America today - black, male, angry, dangerous, uneducated.  I am suspicious when they share traditionally liberal or conservative views wondering what is on their reading lists, what podcasts they listen to and what leaders developed and influenced them. I question if they're "really Christians." I judge every word they say and parse through phrases to discern if they understand not just personal sin and salvation but God's plan for systemic redemption through Christ. I struggle to feel seen and heard no matter the honesty of their efforts. Worse, this is before they have done or said anything and most certainly after they have sinned against me, there is no going back.  Prominent pastors like Franklin Graham and Bill Johnson who made bigoted comments about police brutality, Donald Trump and my brothers and sisters of color I can't stand to read, see, or value their leadership. I harbor bitterness and rage the longer time passes and my desire to love and like them and those who believe like them becomes less and less. 

What I find is that my fear of being prejudged and misunderstood turns outward and I judge, criticize and condemn my brothers and sisters instead of genuinely engaging with them as people made in the image of God.  Instead of embodying what I long for, I perpetuate the thoughts and deeds that I detest. 

Under my fear of being misunderstood and judged is my fear of rejection. So I reject them. This is false power. I'm afraid that if I show up fully, gifts and faults included, I will be marginalized by those with money and power so I might as well cast myself to the edges of society.  At least then I chose my place. And since our country operates on a racial totem pole, that edge is not just outside, it's at the bottom.This is the twisted logic that prevents me from being reconciled to others, because I'm not fully reconciled to myself. And that most certainly holds reconciliation with God at bay. 

The words of Carter G. Woodson resound in my mind as I write this: “If you can control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.” 

God, forgive me for the ways I judge my neighbors. Please turn my prejudice into love. Romans 12 says, "be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." God would you free from the temptation to reduce myself to less than what Your Cross and Adoption have afforded me to be; and keep me from reducing others the same way. 

Conversely, when I sit in pews filled by those who share my dark skin, I assume poverty and lack. I immediately move into messiah mode and think of all I have to offer "these people". I take my internalized inferiority and project it outwards, crushing the image of God in my brothers and sisters because white supremacy crushed it in me. And, instead of seeing God's abundance I label it as scarcity. Thick scales are on my eyes. I am in need of an encounter with my Lord and be changed from Saul to Paul. 

I engage with each person having my skin with an agenda in mind and try to decipher what theirs might be. I am there save, impart knowledge and teach. It gives me validation, value and a role. In "my" community I have a part and I must play it; because if I don't, I fear rejection again.  Each interaction must be an endeavor for "us" to"move on up", "to make it out". When Jesus said of the religious leaders, "you blind guides" I see Him clearly talking about me. I criticize the American Dream with one hand and offer it with other. I prophesy against capitalism out of one side of my mouth and promote it with the other. Jesus is the savior for some and the dollar is the messiah for others. I embody the double-mindedness that breaks my heart when I see it in others. Selah. 

Father, forgive me for my hypocrisy and unwillingness to yield to Your teaching. Forgive me for reaching out and deceiving myself into thinking I didn't need to be reached. How deceived I am that in one community I can feel paralyzing inferiority and in the other be moved to action not by compassion by a false superiority and obligation while fearing rejection by both groups. Father, would you help me to fix my eyes upon You and be rooted in my acceptance as a Son of God with an eternal place in Your Heavenly family - my skin and status not a liability but a cause for celebration. 

Even more convicting than these is that when I sit with my non-Christian friends of any complexion and/or status, I keep up a wall of defense and silent judgment while waiting for a moment to invite them to Jesus. I am honest, but not too honest. I ask for input but don't really value their advice. Jesus was a friend to sinners. Thus, He is a friend to me. So, why do I build a fence and say I can't be a friend to "them".

God, I confess that the sin that holds all of this together is pride.  I think of myself more highly than my wealthy lighter skinned neighbors and my dark-skinned friends and family. And I put myself above those who don't believe in You and only believe they're in my life to meet You, not for me to meet them. God, I am so sorry. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. Thank you for being my savior and friend. 

You are God, I am not. You are Messiah, I am not. No one else will save us. No one else will save me.  You are the only one we will worship for eternity. They will not worship me. There is none like you. You are God, I am not. Thank you God that just like Isaiah, when we confess you forgive us, welcome us in again and send us into mission out of an adoption into your family. Hallelujah and Amen. 

_________________________________________________________________________________

**Important Note** Asking God for forgivenessdoes not minimize or dismiss the passive and active sins of racism, abuse, violence, misogyny, land theft, greed and capitalism perpetrated and perpetuated by you and others towards me and others. Nor does it minimize or dismiss the tragic trespasses committed against you.  These confessions are a proclamation that though you harm me, I will seek your health. Though you kill me I will bless you. I will not yield to rage and wrath but will be consumed by the ever present love of God. Because you who are not yet reconciled to God and to me know not the evil you do. So, like Jesus prayed for the soldier who pierced His side, I will pray for you who wish and do me harm. Not because your hatred doesn't matter but because the Love of God matters more. 

To Timothy Caughman

Dear Mr. Caughman,

One day the world will know you were more than a target, a record of wrongs, or a hashtag. You were a person made in the image of God sent to the dust too soon. I hope you know I wish that I could have hugged you to make sure you felt loved one more time before you left.  This world is harsh for people who look like us and because of what happened to you I don't have to tell you that.

I want you to know I'll think of you every time I go to California since you never made it there. And my daughter will know your name when she's old enough for the talk about how cruel this world can be to people who look like her Dad and share our skin.

God, I wish you didn't have to die for people to see you. I wish you didn't have to be gone for people to miss you. I wish that you were famous for your laugh, love for photos, or epic collection of things people couldn't quite see the value of what you redeemed. Lord have mercy.

I hope you know how valuable you are Mr. Caughman. And as God holds you like Lazarus, I'm sure you do.

Your brother,

Jonathan

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Why Racial Reconciliation Conferences Don't Work

"My sister came home with a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on and my father told her to get the f*** out of his house. My parents are divorced so she just went to my Mom's. He won't talk to her and she won't talk to him. What do you suggest I do?"

This young white-American college student is the reason that Racial Reconciliation Conferences don't work apart from a sustained effort to engage in racial conciliation and justice.

First, to paraphrase Mark Charles, it's hard to reconcile something that was never together in the first place. This is certainly true of the racial/ethnic history of America. Additionally, these divisions are not only ideological but physical. Slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, reservations, internment and deportations leave our communities divided by class and/or skin color in every corner of this country. 

Secondly, the emotional capacity necessary for this young woman to communicate with her father and sister takes more than a few hours to cultivate. Furthermore, the closer that we are to the people who are hurting, fearful and angry because of some unconscious bias, acute fear or other deep-seated cause, the more costly and difficult it can be to practice peacemaking. Many times, we leave conferences with information to win an argument but no tools to mend relationships. Thus, the status quo remains firmly in tact. 

Lastly, racial reconciliation conferences don't work because they are often one-off events disconnected from ministry priorities and deemed extra - not essential.  Talking about race is a first step but far from a pursuit of racial justice.  Ethnic minorities and those attempting to "make things right" when it comes to mass incarceration, school to prison pipelines, gerrymandering and the like, more often than not leave Racial Reconciliation gatherings at best more informed and more upset. There are rarely calls to lament and repent, let alone funded sustained action against racial and ethnic injustice. Instead there is a commission of some sort and a silent or spoken commitment to keep the dialogue going until the next "conference". Perhaps the attendees' expectations were too high or the bar for the conference was too low. Either way, the mark is missed. 

What this young woman needs isn't a conference but a community dedicated to the messy work of reconciliation and justice that Jesus modeled and His disciples practiced in Acts.  What our churches and fellowships must become are the places where the messy, awesome work of justice actually happens. The world doesn't need another conference. We need to truly be the Church and make disciples able to preach the Gospel of Jesus to a world in need of a Messiah in word, deed and power; and stop producing Christian material for Christians' personal consumption. This is especially true when it comes to practicing racial conciliation and pursuing racial justice because this redemptive work happens around kitchen tables and over cups of coffee. Seldom does it occur in a room of 200+ people. God help us to do things differently and according to Your Will. Amen.

 

40 Days of Prayerful Resistance

A few weeks ago at 1:30am, a woman screamed "somebody please help me" in the middle of my block. It was loud and desperate. I got up to see a man from our 2nd Floor window grabbing her violently. I put on my pants, grabbed my keys and ran out into the street while my wife called 9-1-1. As I made eye contact with the man, he moved away quickly and I spoke directly to the lady. The police are coming I told her to bring her comfort, I’m not going anywhere.

Then I realized, the police are coming and I’m not leaving. That could be very bad for me.

Tamir Rice didn't even get to speak before he was shot. Michael Brown was standing in the street just like I am. If I reach into my pocket to get my phone, will I end up like Amadou Diallo?

I could be killed while my wife watched from upstairs and my daughter could be awakened by the gunshots that killed her father. And all of this because I was perceived to be a threat, instead of the one who called for help.

I put my hands up and with my arms wide said, "thank you so much for coming,” terrified that 9 white men arrived. I updated them on the situation and then went back inside.

As I reflect on it now, I ask myself:

How do I receive and live out of the love of God and not the fear of man?

How do I see every person as someone made in the image of God, even when they don't perceive me that way?

How do I pray for my enemies and seek a justice that frees the oppressed and the oppressor?

I believe that I must cultivate a #PrayerfulResistance so that my inner life with God sustains my external activity - especially my activism. I believe that all followers of Jesus must develop a spiritual resilience that allows us to push back against the darkness with the marvelous light we have and know. We must do this even when experience, anecdotes, statistics, and history say otherwise.

Pray and Worship Like an Activist

Since Jesus ascended into heaven, His followers have been in a state of bold, prayerful resistance. Jesus told them to wait and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Women and men who sat, ate, prayed and waited in that upper room resisted fear of ridicule, rejection and death. They sought to be citizens of the Kingdom of God before they were citizens of this world.

The Acts Church prayerfully resisted racism, classism and sexism in Acts 6 as ethnic minority widows were overlooked in the daily distribution of food. In Acts 10, God reorients Peter's heart to make space for gentiles in it because non-Jews through Christ now had access to Yahweh too.

During Jesus' ministry, Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collector sat beside one another at His feet. Zealots were known to confront, even assassinate tax collecting Jews who worked for oppressive Roman Empire. Now, they shared a common mission. Luke the Physician and Mark, a historian had no business with fishmongers like Peter, James, John and Andrew. But now, they were united by their Father's business. And women like Mary, Martha and Mary the Mother of Jesus were just as integral as the men surrounding Jesus. Not to mention the "gluttons" and "drunkards" that regularly called Jesus company who are now filled with the spirit and not excessive food and wine! This was a diverse, reconciled group of people resistant to the order of the day because they were reoriented by an encounter with the Risen King!

Since the Fall, racism, sexism, political strife, bigotry, fear and violence opposed the kingdom of God. Whether for comfort, culture or control the urge for the Church to build walls between "us" and "them" has been at odds with the Kingdom of God.

And since the Fall, God used faithful followers to reflect His light in the darkness.

The question is who will take that light now? God asks in Isaiah 6, "who will go for us?" and He asks that today as well.

Who will preach a Gospel that is Good News for the rich and the poor? Who will plead the case of the undocumented, unborn, the widow and the orphan? Who will care for the sick, disabled and incarcerated? Who will give food to the hungry and clothes to the naked? Who will stand to steward creation and against those trying to destroy?

Isaiah answered, "send me!". But only after he confessed, could he be cleansed by God. And only after he had been cleansed, could he be sent.

Conviction of sin and the righteousness of Christ followed by sincere confession of personal and collective sin is where our activism must begin. I am not the messiah and neither is anyone else on this planet. Therefore, just like Isaiah the prophet was guilty of having unclean lips when his occupation was to speak truth, I desire to end injustice but participate in the system I want to stop. My action, inaction, ignorance or apathy keeps patterns of sin and exploitation in place. Only out of God’s love, forgiveness and His sanctifying presence can we press forward in bold humility - not prideful confrontation.

That is why we are hosting "Pray and Worship Like and Activist". We must come to God with all of we are - the joy, pain, sadness, anger, delight, frustration and hurt. We must remember who we are in light of Christ so that we can live into the words of Romans 12. "

All are welcome to come to these nights of prayer, worship and intercession. Click here to RSVP!

Friday Fast

With the above in mind, in scripture we see a pattern of God transforming us consistently, not just mountaintop experiences to get us to the next valley; but His presence in with us on the mountain, in the valley and in between. There must be disciplines that I can practice to orient myself around the love of God and not fear of what might happen to me as an African-American male.

Romans 12:1-2 says, Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

After the disciples were filled with the Spirit, they went out on mission in power and boldness. They were blessed and sent to the ends of the Earth with the Good News and the presence of God. But somehow, 2000 years later I long to be filled with strategy, techniques and Christian material, not Holy Spirit and power. I am often blessed and sent to my favorite places for brunch and motivation for another long week of work at Sunday services. I am not equipped to cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach the Good News of Jesus for all people. In the words of leadership at New Life Fellowship Church, the Christian faith is personal, never private. Sadly, I often Jesus into personal assistant whose specialty is self-help, not the Son of God who is the Redeemer of all Creation.

So, would you Fast on Fridays with us and replace your meals with prayer, time in scripture, and intercession for the powerful and powerless. Our cultural Christianity revolves around pursuing comfort and avoiding suffering. America tells us that whatever we want should have and that is not the way of the Kingdom. Our resistance isn't running off of one prayer meeting or rally, but constant encounters with Jesus in prayer, scripture, and worship. The discipline of fasting and prayer shapes us so that when things are the most difficult, we still make our homes in Christ. Specifically, while pursuing justice, spiritual disciplines allow us to constantly see ourselves, our neighbors and enemies as people made in His image to flourish, work, rule and create. God responded with healing and miracles in scripture and we believe He will respond to us!

All are welcome to fast and pray alongside us using this framework. Click here!

Moving from Christian Clique to Covenant Community

As aforementioned, the disciples did not pursue God in isolation; instead they were part of a vibrant, diverse, reconciled community. And, though I feel unseen and unheard by White American Evangelicalism, I am seen, heard, felt and loved by my Father in Heaven. In His kingdom I am not invisible, marginalized or left out. Every color, creed, and background has access through Jesus Christ - including African Americans. But, in moments of deep pain, I need to be reminded of God’s love for people of color and those on the margins of power and privilege. And I know that I’m not the only one.

That's why we're hosting "Moving from Christian Clique to Covenant Community". Following Jesus on the straight and narrow is difficult especially since we are prone to wander. It was never His intention for us to do it alone. It is impossible to live the Christian life separate from other disciples. Additionally, it is unbiblical to live the Christian life apart from the poor, suffering and marginalized. Some Christians like to say, "it's just me and Jesus" as a point of pride; but if Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane desired for the Apostles to stay with Him, surely we need encouragement and fellowship as well.

We are to live in beloved, reconciled community pursuing justice, loving mercy, and growing ever closer to God and one another in Love through Christ Jesus by the power of Holy Spirit. And in our culture that is increasingly difficult to do - even if we are in small groups or part of churches. American Christianity is shaped by is a long list of things "not to talk about" and injustices like segregation, redlining and economic inequality leave many congregations disconnected from one another, non-Christians, and anyone who doesn't check certain political, ethnic or social boxes. Thankfully, we have the Bible to show us what following Christ in community truly looks like.

This evening is for church leaders, small group leaders, and Christians interested in reflecting a more authentic witness of Christ in our churches, campuses, fellowship and communities. Click here to RSVP!

Sustainable Activism

Finally, I saw Isaiah 6, Acts 1-4, and 2Corinthians coming together. After I encounter the Risen Jesus in prayer and worship and confess Him as Messiah and Redeemer, I can be sent out full of the Spirit to preach the Gospel; and do mighty works in His name, for His Glory and my benefit. This is not an individual mission or special project for some people but the Great Commission for all Christians - including me!

But I am not perfect, I make mistakes. And so do other Christians that I am in relationship with. Thus, with any collection of broken people, there must be commitment to reconciliation and discipleship for the long-term. Following Jesus and stewarding the ministry of reconciliation given to me requires discipline in solitude and community so that my heart and mind can be more like that of Christ. Practically, I must build not just a day or a month around the resurrection of Jesus; I must construct my very life around Him. This is where our "Sustainable Activism Workshop" will provide the tools necessary for you and your community to develop daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual disciplines that are personal and corporate so that our actions, especially our activism, flow out of a deep inner and communal life with Jesus.

This event is open to all! We would especially like to welcome those who are passionate about seeking justice for the least of these in our world. CLICK HERE TO RSVP

#JerichoWalk

Looking at Acts 1-4, after prayer, worship, fasting, and seeking Christ in solitude and covenant community, our devotion becomes a sign of the Kingdom of God for the world to see. Thus, we will walk, pray, worship, and break bread as a community committed to bringing down dividing walls of hostility just as Jesus did. He lived that we might have life and have life abundantly. That abundance includes the undocumented, unborn, and the poor as well as those who are empty but perceived rich because of privilege and physical resources. That abundance includes water, air and all of creation. There is no person or place too far for God's love and redemption. So, we invite you to be a sign with us of the Kingdom of God.

All are welcome! RSVP here for more information.

It is my sincere hope that you will join us for any and all portions of this #PrayerfulResistance. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact nycurbanproject@gmail.com.

I Am No Better Than Dylann Roof

Every person is made in the image of God - including me, my wife, my daughter and Dylann Roof. There is nothing that I can do for God to love me any more or any less. There is nothing that I could say to compromise God's desire to be close to me, to know me and for me to be close and know Him. And that is the same for Dylann Roof. 

I can claim that he is uniquely evil as Tehanisi Coates puts it or weigh my options and decide to kill like Obama did Osama Bin-Laden. I could even just go with my gut and say "some people just need to die". But that logic, that statement and killing someone as a punishment for murder is flawed and certainly not Christian. MLK puts it best, “Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology,” wrote King, “and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.”

Love your neighbor as yourself includes the white supremacists in our midst. Love for your enemies includes those who have harmed, abused, raped and murdered.  There is no asterisk in these verses nor any wavering in the heart of God for all of His people that He shaped in their mother's wombs. He takes no pleasure in the death of any man as it's His desire that all would come to know Him. 

Dylann Roof dehumanized anyone who he saw as "not white". That is the first step in the willingness to perpetrate violence. We then dehumanize him to the point where 12 peers decide he should die as well; and millions of people agree. That is the same mentality that trolls Twitter ensuring that a dehumanizing narrative follows any person convicted and even suspected of committing a crime. It's the same mentality and world view that makes it possible for men and women to be killed by police. It's the same mentality that allows employers to discriminate against felons and keep them in the margins of society. It also absolves we as a people of any responsibility in creating the context the produced Dylann Roof. Clint Smith says it best, 

"Additionally, to call Roof uniquely evil, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has also pointed out, is to ignore the history that made him possible. Roof is not a historical anomaly as much as a representation of a past that America prefers to sweep under its rug rather than commit to cleaning up. When Roof told Tywanza Sanders, one of the victims in the church, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go,” he was echoing a vast history that has used such rationale to decimate black lives. Killing Roof does nothing other than soothe the moral conscience of a country that would rather not reckon with the forces that created and cultivated his ideology.

Additionally, Smith states that:

It is easy not to support the death penalty when there is doubt about the culpability of the person sitting in the chair; it is harder to sustain such principles when the crime of the accused is morally indefensible. But if our principles are only our principles when it is convenient for us, when they align with our visceral emotional responses, then they are, in fact, not principles at all. What’s the point of having progressive principles if they can’t contain your rage?

Dylann Roof might be sick, demented, or mentally ill - but for sure he is sinful. His heart is deceitfully wicked above all things. And the only medication that cures this ailment is the love of Jesus. And those beautiful men and women that he murdered were studying the Jesus who died that we all might have life and have it abundantly - including Dylann Roof.  Not just the folks who do everything right or excluding those who do evil. That is the scandalous grace of God. That is precisely why we study scripture as followers of Jesus. Because when we don't, we mistake the laws of America for the Law of God and they are clearly not the same

We are saved by grace through faith so that no man can boast. It is not my actions that set me apart but only God's grace. I have put my trust in the Living God and it is His work on the Cross and my faith in Him that saved me. Thus it is not my actions that save or condemn me, but the condition of my heart. And what the Bible says about Dylan Roof is also what it says about me. So instead of picking up a stone to kill him and gnashing my teeth in anger and disgust, I will pick up the Gospel of John and do like Cynthia, Susan, Ethel, Depayne, Clemente, Tywanza, Daniel, Sharonda and Myra and ponder instead what kind of Jesus cries out for His murderers to be forgiven; not for them to be killed. 

Jesus Is King and I'm So Scared

God, there is no where for me to go. I feel powerless, weak, invisible. I believe I only matter to You. The God who made me. The God who saved me. The God who will raise me when they shoot me dead or blow me up for pushing back against the system in pursuit of Your Beloved Community. Oh God who calls me His own, I fully expect to die fighting for Christ and what's right with barrages of non-violence knowing full-well that I will be crucified in real-life. Give me the strength, wisdom and grace to utter Father forgive them for they know not what they're doing. Because God, I'm asking -- how could they not know? Lord have mercy on me. Please don't leave me alone when the day comes. Please don't leave me alone. I know that you promised You wouldn't but please don't leave me alone. There is no way that I could do it. Please, don't leave me alone. There is no one here to save me. 

Christianese doesn't make space for the feelings I have. And another Christian book, YouTube worship video, or meme is not going to "get me over" this time. I woke up this morning and Trump is to be President. And, I am scared - for myself, my wife, my daughter, people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants, Muslim & Jewish brothers and sisters, Indigenous people, refugees, the undocumented... and so many more people. And, please don't post, but "Jesus is Lord" because I believe that; I preach that. But the Jesus that I believe in makes space for this pain. This hurt. This confusion. 

White-washed, evangelical, western "gospel" braided with american exceptionalism looks over my fear and makes a sermon illustration and asks me to tithe. It doesn't drive me to pray and stand with the Sioux in Standing Rock who are facing corporations one side, an indifferent government on the other and winter getting closer every day.

Blonde hair, blue-eyed Jesus has nothing but a job and "freedom fries" to give to the woman who woke up this morning contemplating whether or not to put on her hijab because she's afraid of being beaten up or set on fire. The thin-lipped Jesus in the stain-glass window is silent on the death penalty and mass incarceration and says "the world is not my home" to those caught up in the school to prison pipeline. Our American, "pro-life" Jesus has the right bumper stickers, t-shirts and listens to the right radio stations; but under the veneer of "christian" kindness is homophobic, xenophobic, capitalistic self-interest, concerned only for what makes "us", not "them" happy, comfortable and great. After all, that's in the Bible right? I mean, the Constitution. Heck, they're the same thing, right?

Millions of white Americans and those bought into this "jesus" and the american dream, just confirmed what I believe. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Yet, the mainstreaming my rejection, criminalization and mass disregard for the pain of so many is overwhelming. The Jesus who overcame death, hell and the grave is the only reason I can walk to the subway today. And, I know I'm not the only one. 

More hurtful though, is that what will be preached, tweeted, shared, posted and preached from now and every Sunday in most pulpits in this country will be cursory, ambivalent, and/or just miss what happened because the margins didn't and still don't matter and a Trump presidency doesn't change their life all that much.  And, that is the saddest fact of them all. That those tasked with leading others to follow the Risen Jesus are not following Him at all. 

So to those of you, like me who long to see the people of God from every tribe, tongue and nation worship Jesus in spirit and truth stand apart from the "greatness" offered by america. I ask you to cry out to God -- I'm talking Psalm 88 type of serious lament like what's above. A prayer that makes the pain of the Cross that's as palpable as the power of His resurrection. Because this pain and the pain that is coming are as real as the Cross of the Jesus we believe in. 

Then, would you pray this prayer of confession with me. 

Gracious God, in Christ Jesus, you teach us to love our neighbors but we build dividing walls of hostility. You show us how to love one another as sisters and brothers but we hide ourselves from our own human family. You ask us to seek out the stranger and welcome the guest. You want us to share your abundant gifts with the poor but we cling tightly to our possessions and our privilege. You call us to proclaim good news to all people but we waste our words and hide our light. Have mercy on us, Loving God. Forgive our sin, open our hearts, and change our lives. By your spirit, make us holy and whole – one people, united in faith, hope and love; through Jesus Christ, Our Reconciler and Redeemer.

And would you open your hands and receive this blessing. If you need to, find another person to pray this blessing over you. 

In the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, would you, brothers and sisters be blessed and sent as seekers of shalom and justice for the powerful and the powerless, the oppressed and the oppressors, the privileged and the marginalized, all people made in the image of God. You have been reconciled to God by the blood of Christ Jesus. And filled with Holy Spirit. You are therefore Christ’s ambassadors called to call all to be reconciled to Him and one another by the same of the Risen Lamb that reconciled you. Be blessed between the now and the not yet to preach and practice the ways of Jesus, making sacred space for those in your care to be loved through sacred listening and spirit-led activism. Like Moses, you have been sent to Pharaoh to make Yahweh known that Egyptians and Israelites may worship in spirit and in truth, now and for always. By His grace, through the gift of faith and for His Glory, AMEN!

And after you pray, please join us in the ministry of reconciliation, the preaching of Gospel in word, deed and power, fellowship and genuine community. Because the Kingdom of God and the United States of America are NOT the same thing; and if we don't bear witness to that with our lives, they will never know another way is possible. 

I don't know how to end this. So I'm just going to stop writing. Jesus is King and this pain and fear are as real as He is. And he'll be with me in my 11am meeting. 

 

InterVarsity, Gay Marriage & Something Else

First off, no one is being fired from InterVarsity for supporting legislation in favor of gay marriage. That is false and painful click bait for Time Magazine to make revenue off of advertising because merging a theological position and a political one helps them make money. They have no interest in investing long-term in the dialogue between members of the LGBTQIA communities and the faith communities they are or are not a part of. Their intentions were not to spur reconciliation or point out disagreement without inspiring hatred or providing fodder for more derision.  

Quite simply, sex sells. Whether it's exploiting the physical attributes of men and women on covers of magazines or someone's painful story boiled down to 350 words and a 1-minute video. Lord have mercy.

This article does nothing to help my relationship with Jackie* who poured her heart out to me about falling in love with another woman. It does nothing to help my relationship with Jimmy* who left a note for me late one night hoping that "coming out" that way was less shameful. It does nothing for my friend Kim* on the edge of sobriety because of another failed attempt at intimacy. In fact it does the opposite. It sews discord and disdain, props up social walls, and destroys trust built between individuals like me and my friends in the LGBTQIA Community. It obliterates the kingdom reality that we can live and work alongside one another and disagree; and puts us in the same shameful box as republicans v. democrats, liberals v. conservatives, Side A. v. Side B. 

The outrage that flares from both "sides" is excruciating to watch as I hear friends of mine digest tidbits of loose information longing for something more robust and others giving up altogether. The text messages, Facebook posts, emails, conversations face to face cannot be boiled down into a lazy blog post quite simply because my friends in the LGBTQIA Community are worthy of more than that. And I believe that staff like me and certainly InterVarsity's leaders have done nothing shallow or cursory. 

Unfortunately this is what our culture has devolved to, as two sides hurl ammunition to win an argument while losing relationships. We are more severed as a society and more fractured as a people who are too concerned with being right rather than with being righteous. And most of all we look the least like the Jesus we claim to follow and bear witness to.

The place that "who we sleep with" now occupies in our culture disgusts me. Sex - who is getting it and who isn't - has been boiled down to an activity and at the same time exalted to the place of identifier. And I firmly believe that sex has no place on the throne of our hearts, nor the forefronts of our minds. I say this, not because sexuality isn't important. I believe that it is! I also hold that sexual identity, practice, orientation and gender can never bear the weight of our identity. 

Please know that InterVarsity's beliefs have not changed in 75-years. What has changed is the place that sexuality, intimacy and family has in our culture. Because of the exalted place that sexuality occupies, our theology needed to be more fully explained. 

Here is InterVarsity's actual statement responding to Time's article and our paper detailing the 4-year process of prayerful engagement with real people - not just "positions". 

What This Decision Means for Me, My Family and Those I Lead

This does not mean violent words or deeds are justified against the LGBTQIA community. It does not mean we cast judgement and dismiss the loneliness, fear and the profound reality of social stigma and rejection. In fact it means the exact opposite. It means that because our culture has chosen to vilify and ostracize LGBTQIA people and cast you out, followers of Jesus must move closer. And not just to pass a track or pray the sinner's prayer and move on, but to do life alongside you in the same way we do life alongside racist, greedy, jealous, adulterous, idolatrous individuals every day. We move closer because Jesus moved closer to us. I move closer because Jesus moved closer to me. 

Jesus does not endorse my prejudice and greed nor the adultery in my heart yet He sits with me and I feel loved by Him. He sacrificed time, energy and resources to be with me even though He doesn't "agree" with every portion of my life.

And, I want the same to be said of me! That I can disagree with you and you with me, yet we both feel loved, appreciated and valued by one another.  Yes, our beliefs are different but I want you to know my daughter, eat dinner with my wife and celebrate Christmas and New Year's. 

I want it to be said of my LGBTQIA friends in every season, not just in response to irresponsibly written articles, that they can move towards me because I move closer to them. 

If you are reading this message and you are in pain and mourning, please know that I weep with you. I am angry for you and desire to have genuine conversations rooted in shared experiences and relationship not theological positions and talking points. 

I sincerely hope that this post is the beginning of real conversations with real people who believe differently but desire to honor one another and follow Jesus. I also hope that those of you who are my friends, colleagues, and readers in the LGBTQIA community continue to engage in the messy work of reconciliation with me. Not in the comments section of posts or this or on Facebook or via email - but around a table of great food and much grace.  

Franklin Graham Doesn't See Me, But Jesus Does

When I sobbed through the chorus to Dara Maclean's, "Blameless" after seeing Terrence Crutcher murdered in Tulsa I just couldn't stop crying. I wept because here were white Christians singing an amazing song that I just feel on the outside of. And after reading Franklin Graham's latest message telling me to "listen up! Do what the police say," among other ignorant nonsense, I literally had to go and lay down. His post made the words to this song and many "white contemporary christian songs" feel out of reach for the black boy inside of me that once again would be seen as a threat to be put down, not a son to be picked up. More accurately, the chorus would be:

Blameless,

You call them holy. 

They've been forgiven 

You call them righteous 

they are Yours. 

They're spotless 

You call them worthy 

They are Your children

You call them chosen 

They're yours. 

Them being white people. White people are blameless, holy, forgiven, righteous, and belonging to God.  White people are spotless, worthy, chosen and children of God - not we whose skin is kissed by the sun, whose eyes are almond shaped or would dare call ourselves native or indigenous.  

I associate being theologically accurate with white people. I associate being well thought out with being white. I associate being trustworthy and good with being white. Everything sound about Christianity that is produced by non-white people must be verified by white people. Spirituals with four lines said over and over must not be as holy as hymns with four stanzas. Being at church four hours is inefficient, a good sermon has three points, and the only worship that gets introduced as "new", "different" and "something we are trying" is not in English or "Black" - and usually done just once or during "our" month.  There is an innate inferiority that me and other non-white people were fed and internalized and it robs us of joy, peace and love. It is not the Gospel of Christ but a western counterfeit gospel with a sign that says "whites only".  We take the back seat or get off the bus altogether because the gospel of america is a theological Jim Crow and the Cross is changed from a lynching tree for a Palestinian Jew to a lunch counter in 1950's Greensboro. THIS is no good news at all to African Americans. The promise of white evangelicalism is crushed by the real lives of people of color. 

American = Christian = White are disturbingly synonymous terms. So, it brought disappointment to my heart when I looked at a selfie of Paul Ryan's interns this summer and it was overwhelmingly white. And to think that many people imagine a kingdom of God where we gather around our leader and the picture is still void of people of color is acutely painful. It brings me to my knees, brings tears to my eyes and I am paralyzed. For many white american Christians, what is most familiar to me in prayer and worship isn't just unfamiliar to them, it's unbiblical. It's so different that it can't be Christian.  Literally, my brothers and sisters are being murdered by police who "fear" for their lives and my "christian brothers and sisters" are too busy defending themselves to make space for me and my pain in their picture of heaven. Lord have mercy. 

Now what saved me from my despair is verse 2. It continues,

 "I will boldly come

running straight to the one 

singing over me your songs of salvation

No one can take this from me

I am a child that you named free. 

Nothing will separate us I'm held by you. 

Now, this is some Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God! 

In the faces of fearful deputies intimidated because I wear a Kaepernick Jersey and say Black Lives Matter, I am a child that God named Free. 

In the faces of uncomfortable worshipers I can raise my hands and shout aloud because no one can take away the joy that My Father has given me. And I need not be ashamed. 

No matter how strong the prison industrial complex or how heavy the burden of dangerousness the history and media places on my back - nothing will separate me from my Father in Heaven because I am covered by the blood of Christ Jesus. 

It doesn't matter how segregated our worship here may be on Sunday mornings, the kingdom God has enough room in the program for our praise and the aisles are big enough for us all to run and dance. 

Franklin Graham may not see me, but my Father in Heaven surely does and the day will come when every tribe and every tongue and every nation will praise and worship Him in the Heavenly places; and you better believe that confessing that you are a white american evangelical is NOT the price of admission to the Kingdom. 

When I Hear the National Anthem, I Will Kneel and Bow My Head

In 2008, I felt like an american for the first time because I saw a leader who looked like me. All my life I hoped my education and accomplishments would free me from the history of my skin color as inherently inferior and intimidating - it never did. But then Barack Hussein Obama became President and I watched the inauguration and thought "I belong now." Things are different. And sadly, that simply isn't true. Hate groups are more active in the United States than ever before and we have presidential candidates whose platforms oppress and violate the most vulnerable people here and abroad. Lord have mercy. 

In 2011, sitting with undocumented students who had hope for immigration reform, I had hope too. But then we all saw what happened, or rather what didn't happen in congress. In 2012, Billy Graham took out a full page ad reminding everyone to vote Romney for true biblical values. Seriously? And then a barrage of events happened for me that were quite overwhelming and highlighted America's frequent and focused systems of oppression of marginalized people around the corner and the world. This coupled with unparalleled protection and empowerment of those with privilege and power leaves any national pride I had in tatters. Some of these events include: 

  • Bangladeshi factories collapsed and killed hundreds of workers while making clothes largely for our overcrowded American closets. 
  • Frontline's analysis of the Torture Report showed how we systematically abused innocent people in the name of freedom and justice for America and the people responsible wrote laws to give themselves immunity from prosecution. (I am looking squarely at George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and all them). 
  • One executive was prosecuted for the financial crisis and bonuses and compensation has returned to record levels. Bank's fines look good in articles but are a negligible percentage of their quarterly earnings. 
  • Infrastructure in the United States is crumbling every year with bridges literally collapsing as cars and trucks go across them. Never mind the water crisis in Flint, Michigan that wreaks of privileged powerful overwhelmingly white people enriching and protecting themselves at the expense poor black, brown and white people. 
  • At Standing Rock we see a corporation unleash attack dogs on Native Americans 150 years ago to the day when hundreds of men women and children were slaughtered in the interests of destructive, murderous greed in the White Stone Massacre.
  • To date, close to 800 people have died at the hands of law enforcement. And our government refused to count until this year. 
  • Hillbilly Elegy and Angry White Men point still to the tragic reality of impoverished white citizens of these United States and the enduring fact that no one in power is willing to meaningfully engage their problems drug abuse, suicide, domestic violence, educational inequality, and joblessness due to corporate outsourcing - not immigration. 

Most hurtful though are not these events alone.  What's excruciating is the disregard for pain and suffering that those with "the privilege of moving on" exhibit on a regular basis - especially in the Church.

Prayer requests, sermons, podcasts, seminaries, discipleship tools and other parts of the "Christian industrial complex" that are enmeshed with mainstream American Culture remain largely unchanged. In fact, some of America's most famous supposed Christian leaders and institutions double down on bigotry, homophobia, racism, islamophobia and defense of the gun lobby and corporate greed. See franklin graham or Jerry Falwell JR spewing nothing close to Christ-like. 

Wall posts, comments online, articles, blogposts and actual conversations are mind-boggling. Racial hatred and violence is indefensible yet we do it every day in America. I mean, Donald Trump Jr. literally compared Syrian refugees to Skittles. A @#$@$%# bowl of candy?

I used to think, "how did we get here?" And now that how this country was founded is in the forefront of my mind, I can only think, "we have always been here." 

The "American Brand" is so strong even the children its slaves think we have a shot. In the words of Denzel playing Malcolm X, I've been "hoodwinked, bamboozled. Someone pulled the wool over my eyes."  Selah.

This election cycle reminds us that more than half the country wants to make America great again and that America doesn't include people of color, the LGBT community, the poor, the disabled, the inner city or rural portions of our nation. The only people who stand to benefit are those who are already ahead. 

Then enter Colin Kaepenick's protest that got noticed; and it did exactly what non-violent resistance is supposed to do. It caused complacent, apathetic, disconnected, ambivalent individuals to engage. It forced some ignorant, amnesia-prone citizens to be get educated - white and non-white.  It drove people on the margins to the middle of the conversation and gave people of color consistently on the wrong side of injustice hope that our plight might not be invisible forever. 

No cars were burned or stores looted. No one was shot, pepper-sprayed or tear-gased. White people and everyone else who watches football were forced to remember that the land we inhabit belonged to someone else, the wealth we accumulated is rooted in the Slavery of Africans, and the justice system we celebrate is not just for all people even some of the time. 

So now, because of Colin I am forced to openly acknowledge the tension I've felt for the last 8 years. What will I do when the national anthem plays? For me, I will keep my seat, if possible I will kneel; and bow my head to pray. As a follower of Jesus I am to pledge no allegiance to an earthly kingdom and my heart is not required by Caesar. I place no faith in empire and don't want a slice of the american pie that was made possible by drone strikes, deportations, super pacs and corporations claiming to be people. Our cluster bombs are killing children in Yemen, our unexploded munitions are disabling women in Laos, and we have refugee children from Central America represent themselves in our courts. All while passing laws like Citizens United and revolving doors go from Big Pharma and Wall Street to the FDA and the SEC. I can't. I will not be duped into believing that we are a city on a hill when we created terms like enhanced interrogation, collateral damage and are the only country ever to drop a nuclear bomb. 

So, when the National Anthem plays, I will hold in one hand the gratefulness to God for the blessings He has afforded me and this country at this moment in time. And in the other I will confess, repent and plead for His mercy and justice until it rolls down like a mighty stream. 

I think it would be a profoundly beautiful thing for millions of Americans, instead of standing to sing a song written by a slave owner to pray to the author of freedom to ask for forgiveness and blessed, merciful redemption.

I will fill that minute and a half with the Lord's Prayer and the Prayer of St. Francis and Spirit-filled intercession. 

Like Hugging Ice: Reflections on Grief & Loss

In Genesis 25:23, God tells Sarah that she has two nations in her womb. He does not say you have two fetuses. He does not say you have two collections of genetic material from yourself and your husband that at some point will be twin children. He proclaims that Sarah is already a mother and her unborn children are not just kids but the fathers of nations. 

In Luke 1:41-44, John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth's womb when Mary shared the news of her immaculate conception. It was not a random event, but an intentional one and lest Mary think that she did not yet have a child in her womb an angel named Him, Jesus. Both of these women were already mothers. 

In Psalm 139, the psalmist proclaims that he was knit together in his mother's womb, proclaiming that God was active from the beginning hand crafting a gift for the world in the form of a person yet still inside an expectant mother. This truth applies to every person in history and in the future. 

So no wonder when Priscilla and I lost our first child, we grieved like we lost our first child. Because we did. Our baby was not something to be handled, a problem to be solved, an "it" to be gotten rid of, an inconvenience or a stumbling block on our career paths.  He or she was gifted by God to enrich our lives and the lives of all that she or he would encounter. He or she was not an it. And to make her or him any less than that is to deny the fundamental truth that every person no matter how small is literally made by and in the image of Almighty God. To say that losing a child unnaturally or on purpose is anything less than a death is to say it is not a life when God clearly has states otherwise. 

The last three years, Priscilla and I have lost and lost. And it left us with the fear that there will always be more losing. Why would we be worthy of anything good? The grief was like a growing block of ice in the middle of our living room.  It was cancerous and metastasized, spreading itself to the corners  until we are working our way around it at all times.  Sickness and death are not accommodating.  

That is unless we embrace it. Pray. Go to therapy and counseling. Write things down. Talk to friends, family, one another. Pray more.

We must choose courage and not cowardice again and again. We decide shout the expletives when they come not stuff the anger behind smiles and inspirational quotes.  We feel the deep feelings that are brought on by the lack of a Mom, Ba, Baby, two aunts, and a cousin. 

But damn it's hard to stay close to something so cold for so long. It takes a certain kind of bravery to hold on to reality that every life no matter how small or how long is significant when it's gone. The truth is heavy so it's just easier to pick up other things. Lord have mercy. 

So here's my attempt to hug my Mom's death. My aunt's death. My Baba's death. My baby's death. To hold them so close that they begin to break down into ice cubes and then a liquid and eventually a vapor that is ever present but not in the way.