the race museum


I’m on the last full day of vacation with family in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The weather has been superb, bright, sunny, warm ocean waters and no rain… so far. We rented a condo near the beach and are thoroughly enjoying ourselves here in the friendly hospitable south.

Even though my dad was born and raised in South Carolina, it’s not a place I have frequented. He migrated to the east coast when he was 16 in search of work and a wife and hardly ever returned to the south with his newly created family when I was growing up. So, the first time I was here in South Carolina was as an adult about 17 years ago when a friend and I spontaneously decided to drive down to Myrtle Beach to visit other friends who were staying here for the summer. It was the mid-1990s and I fully embraced the pretty beaches, the endless golf courses, swimming pools, water parks and ton of great places to eat.

However, I also recall curious feelings when staring back at a white woman who stared at me as I ordered ice cream in an ice cream parlor. She didn’t seem to care that I saw her staring, I tried smiling but she maintained her stare. I also remember going out to a dance club and meeting a man dressed like a cowboy, donning the boots and hat with jeans and plaid button down shirt. He slithered up beside me, said “howdy” and told me he lived nearby and wanted me to come visit. I kindly declined. He smiled and said “it’s ok honey, you should know, I love me some black women.” He was white. I just nodded, “oh yea?” And the few black people I met who annoyed me when they appeared to defer to white people all the time. Ugh. The only other place I experienced similar feelings was in New Orleans, LA.

That was then. Now it’s 2013 so I figured things could only be better, and they are. However, as I sat in a pancake house near the beach the other morning with my nieces, ages 11 and almost 13, an elderly couple sitting at the booth across from us kept staring at us as if we were objects in a museum. I figured maybe it was my imagination and decided to ignore them. But it was clear; they were staring and didn’t seem to care that we noticed them staring. After we finished our pancakes and went outside one of my nieces asked, “why was that couple staring at us like that?” The 13 year old continued, “I tried to smile at the lady but she didn’t smile back, she just kept staring.” Sigh. How do you explain potentially racist behavior to this generation of youth? They’re millennials, born on the east coast with a host of multi-racial friendships and unfamiliar with some of the blatant racist attitudes that persist in parts of the south. That is not to say that racism does not occur in the northeast, indeed it does, but it’s often less blatant than this dehumanizing staring thing.

After explaining how some white people don’t seem to think black people are quite human so they stare to see what we do, how we do it, and if we’ll fulfill any of their primitive stereotypes of us, I began an anthropological thought. I told them about a series of essays I have my first year anth students read that deal with tourism and village walks, shaping the tourist’s gaze and representing ethnic difference in Nepal, by Arjun Guneratne. The essays are an interesting analysis between foreign tourists visiting Nepal and high caste Nepalese tour guides who appease the foreign (read “western” or “white”) tourist gaze with exotic representations of the Tharus as primitive jungle dwellers who live as if they’re in an earlier time. The tourists look and stare at the so-called primitive people as if they’re in a museum.

Flipping the script I told my nieces that the white people staring at us were primitive people still living life as if they’re in an earlier time. Lets just stare back as if we’re looking at racism inside a museum. It is 2013 isn’t it? I’m just saying.

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ ~Galatians 3:28-29

talkin’ back: gender by the sea

#sembythesea  Just back from Old Orchard Beach, Maine where I facilitated a session on gender and hip-hop at a seminar-by-the-sea gender studies course. I talked about black feminism and the politics of wreck in hip-hop culture. Queen Latifah’s line, “I bring wreck to those who disrespect me like a dame” from her 1993 U.N.I.T.Y. is used by hip-hop scholar Gwendolyn D. Pough* in her wonderful analysis of the whys and ways black women talk back to black men and society at large through rap and hip-hop. Hip-hop culture was/is male dominated and this breaking of silence for black women was/is revolutionary gender analysis stuff.

The gender course was filled with women (although men are invited, they don’t show up) making the space psychologically and emotionally safe for the women to say and/or write what was really on their minds. Ages 19 through early 20s, young American women and a few international representatives hailing from Ghana, South Africa, and Russia shared the space. Exciting.

However, in a space which is majority white female other things can arise for me. I often tell the peculiar story of the one time I was asked by a very grown white woman in a workshop on race, if it was more important for me to be a woman or to be black. Wow. I’m always both at the same time and one informs the other. I only understand my racial designation (a social construct) as a black woman and only understand my gender designation (another social construct) as a black woman. In other words, I have no real idea what it’s like to be a white woman or a black man. And that’s ok… not a critique, just a fact.

However, Pough’s history lesson, particularly her discussion of black women of the civil rights movement who apparently chose race as most important …for the sake of the black community, U.N.I.T.Y., women stayed in the background and let black men shine as movement leaders and spokespersons. Pough suggests early hip-hop possessed similar cultural learning by women. Let the men shine, stay in the background, let black male voices be heard as representations of the whole community. But this was problematic, especially as the rap game began spewing misogynist lyrics.

In 2004 Pough wrote “women of the hip-hop generation, like the black women who went before them, find themselves in a similar position of trying to navigate a space for themselves in a black-male-dominated public discourse. While we cannot say women of the hip-hop generation hold the same spaces in the public sphere as their foremothers, we can say with some degree of certainty that the way black women of the past navigated the public sphere has had a direct effect on the way black women of the hip-hop generation feel they can move within this sphere. Quite frankly, by the time we reach the hip-hop era, black women have had generations of conditioning to stay in the background while black men claim the limelight. We also have a history of seldom speaking out against black manhood even when it poses a direct threat to black womanhood. We also have, however, glimmers of black female outspokenness that grabs public attention and disrupts the black male dominance of the black public sphere. Examples of these instances surfaced when Michele Wallace wrote Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman and had the nerve to go on TV and defend her ideas; when Ntozake Shange wrote For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide and the play made it all the way to Broadway; when Alice Walker wrote the novel The Color Purple and it was adapted as a feature film; when Terry McMilan wrote the novel Waiting to Exhale and it too was adapted as a feature film. Each of these instances of black female outspokenness was met with tremendous outcry from the black public sphere. They were lambasted by black men and even some black women for portraying negative images of black manhood or showing black men in a negative light. Some people even accused them of the classic ‘airing dirty laundry’ ” (pg. 75 ff).

Sometimes dirty laundry has to be aired if it is to become clean and good smelling again.  Early Hip-hop’s fixation on identity, community, and place is ideally the locale for truth-telling, love and healing to occur. So as a woman who happens to be black or a black person who happens to be a woman, I’m down with bringing wreck wherever and whenever necessary, if it’s done to bring U.N.I.T.Y. to an otherwise fragmented scene.

*Pough, Gwendolyn D. Check It While I Wreck It: Black womanhood, hip-hop, and the public sphere (2004)



My friend Rev. Marty Troyer, pastor of Houston Mennonite Church asked me to write a guest post at his blog for a series he’s doing on Self-Differentiation and the connection between Identity, Community and Mission- (great blog to follow!). This is what I wrote,

“… and dear God, help us focus on being united and not divided or divisive.” His words jammed my ears and echoed a few minutes. The prayers of a young white male in a congregation directly after I delivered a sermon which included reflections on my struggles and joys of being a black woman in an all-white church. I remember hearing that several people had problems with my talk, and this guy verbalized his discomfort through prayer. Afterward, I spent days pouring over what I said that sounded divisive. Today, after other similar experiences I’ve come to the conclusion that whenever a woman or person of color states their own reality of being who they are to a white and/or male group it is often heard as being divisive. “Why can’t you just get along and be like the rest of us?” Well, because I can’t.

The fact that I acknowledge the obvious, my blackness and femaleness should not arouse discomfort in others, but at times it does. Perhaps it’s the old “I don’t see color, I don’t see gender” racist, sexist rhetoric that drives the uneasiness. But what’s so wrong with seeing color and gender and even celebrating it in community?!!

As a black woman (see, I did it again) who has chosen to be intentional about engaging in community with Christians who are not necessarily like myself, I have come up against a few walls including the huge Mennonite wall which is a hard one to climb. The temptation to shut up, blend in or become invisible is often with me however I resist that solution because healthy self-differentiation is critical for my own mental and emotional wellbeing and yours too. In 2 Corinthians 12:14-18 we’re reminded “to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, ‘I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body’ would that make it so? If Ear said, ‘I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head’ would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eyes, how could it hear? If all ears, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where God wanted it.” We are a beautiful effective whole when I am who I am and you are who you are, together.

Desiring to please others by diminishing myself and muting my stories and life experiences for the sake of the group is harmful. And so as I happily engage the theology, songs, food and culture of the larger white group I also share my own without shame, without apology.

Marty’s working definition of Self-Differentiation- having the capacity to claim and embrace what is so for me (my beliefs, feelings, emotions, experiences, story, etc…) in the face of pressure to conform while remaining fully engaged with my community. It’s neither fight nor flight, but a third way of being myself in community and encouraging others to embrace the same freedom. Clarity of Identity and authentic Community lead to faithful Mission.

The alternative I fear, for me as a black woman is shamed identity, 2nd and 3rd class citizenship, and inauthentic mission of the church. A frequent reminder of lines from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) stalk me, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”

I will not be invisible.

aging weekend warriors

I watched some old guys play baseball a couple Saturdays ago. It was a beautiful sunny day, clear skies and easy breezes as I sat on the bleachers and watched and listened, partly for the enjoyment of the game and being outdoors; and partly wearing my baseballanthropologist hat. People watching is great fun.

The players were all over the age of 45 as this was the 45+ senior men’s community baseball club. Most of them had been lovers of the game from childhood having played since their own little league days. Another spectator was sitting near me on the bleachers. He was 52 years old and his 15 year old son sat next to him. The dad bragged about his son’s baseball achievements. The boy sat quietly. His father had been invited to play for one of the teams we were watching that day.

The players began by buttoning and lacing up, stretching, throwing balls, catching, swinging bats, and jogging around the bases. A few of them un-wrapped pink bubble gum and stuck it into their mouths. Chewing gum was apparently part of the baseball ritual. I smiled as I overheard one of the guys tell another player about one of his teammates, “he’s 60 years old and can run those bases really well.” “I just had knee replacement surgery man; we’ll see how it goes.”

As the aging weekend warriors played I noticed they did things for each other. When one of the older men was tired and didn’t feel he could run the bases, another player who wasn’t as tired ran for him. The old guy would swing his bat, hit the ball and the slightly younger or less tired teammate ran the bases in his place. Several complained of cramps or aches but they helped each other out.

Watching this game gave practical meaning to bible verses about being strong when another is weak, and accepting strength from our friend when we ourselves are weak. It also reminded me of ways a body works together and compensates for members who may be struggling at any given time. Sometimes we need a sister or brother to run for us because we’re just too tired to do it ourselves. We drop our ball and rest for a while, and stand up to bat again when our energy is replenished. There was lots of good embodied theology on that baseball field of aging weekend warriors.


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

At 19 a typical American male might be witnessed yelling at the screen of a video game, washing the old car he’s quite proud of, playing sports, falling asleep in class at a college somewhere, looking for girls to …, and working hard at a fast food restaurant. Chechen born American naturalized citizen Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may have done all those things, but he also allegedly took part in helping his older brother carry out an act of terrorism in the fatal bombing of strangers at the Boston Marathon a week ago. Dzhokhar has been described as a quiet, kind, and friendly, boxing enthusiast. His elder brother described as more outgoing, extrovert, friendly.

As I was watched and listened to too much news yesterday, reporters and “experts” gave their take on what could possibly cause an apparently “good kid” by all accounts go bad, I began to feel tired and weary. All the speculation, the waiting, the talk game, the hyper-news spectacle, it was too much. The TV kept flashing the young man’s face, he looked innocent… whatever innocent looks like. His brother, 26 year old Tamerlan Tsarnaev was dead by now, leaving his younger sibling to fend for himself. Whose idea was it to bomb, and why?

After a day of intense waiting behind barricades, cheers suddenly broke from the crowd which signaled that Dzhokhar had been captured. He had been hiding in the stern of a boat parked in the back of someone’s home. The kid was in bad condition, bleeding, apparently shot, and taken to a hospital for care. Authorities want to assure he stays alive. They want answers. We all want answers. What would make seemingly average and content young people (so they say) do something so terrible to people who had not hurt them? There are always clues.

It’s all speculation at this point until and if the surviving young man decides to speak. But their father who resides in his home country of Chechnya, said via phone that his sons are not responsible for this act, his sons are good boys and not involved in violence or terrorism of any sort. He said they liked living in America and were happy there. He insisted the American authorities must be mistaken in accusing his sons of this heinous act.  Their uncle, on the other hand, living in the U.S. said he’s ashamed of what the boys had done, calling them “losers” saying “they had not been able to settle themselves thereby hating everyone who did.”

And of course there are the words from the elder brother who is noted as having said he didn’t have one American friend, he just didn’t understand them (Americans).

I don’t know these young men and I don’t know the answers. Perhaps all that will unfold for us over the next few days and weeks. However, after twenty years of youth ministry work and training, one thing I think I know by now and that is, a young person, particularly a 19 year old male who may feel displaced, with a fragile sense, a distorted sense, or no sense of communal belonging, nurture and support, all of which helps create and seal a sense of identity and purpose… in the worst case scenario, even a “good kid” is capable of almost anything.


joining the holy sisterhood

Every ten years or so I consider looking into joining the sisterhood, ya know, the nunnery. No, I didn’t grow up Catholic, have never been Catholic, didn’t even attend Catholic school. I do however respect much of the witness and ministry of sisters around the globe. Like most organizations in the world, the sisters do the real work, they’re on the front lines, active and present in neighborhoods with the poorest of the poor, healing hurts, righting wrongs, and mending brokenness. Imagine living in community with in a diverse company of women who are all living out what they believe God has called them to do and be in neighborhoods with people everywhere. Sisters can change the world.

When I was in my twenties, I worked in a Catholic Orphanage and spent time up-close with the nuns who were administrators of the place. I remember a couple of sassy, no-nonsense, f-bomb flipping nuns who were not reticent to let you know their thoughts or when they were angry about some injustice that would impact the children in our care. They were righteous sisters.

With the selection of the new pope, I’m attracted once again to the sisters. Pope Francis, whose chosen name derives from Francis of Assisi, a 12th century Italian friar and preacher who left the creaturely comforts of his family background and took a vow to live in poverty with the poor and suffering. Saint Francis of Assisi is known also for his relationship with nature and the environment. He’s said to be one of the first known people to receive stigmata, the actual wounds of the passion of Christ. Today, Pope Francis also makes a choice to identify with the poor of the world. He flaunts simplicity and throws off any signs of opulence in lifestyle. He prefers walking among the people and touching the people vs. reigning above and apart from the people. This Passion Week, in an act of reverence, the Pope lay on the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica during Good Friday’s Mass at the Vatican. Yesterday, Maundy Thursday the Pope kissed and washed the feet of young offenders at a youth detention center during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This Pontiff’s humility and commitment to the poor has apparently always been evident even before his rise to the high calling of Pope. Those who knew him before, tell stories of his everyday simplicity, living in a small home, cooking his own meals, riding public buses and walking in the neighborhood.

Yes, yes, I know, there are concerns about this Pope’s extreme conservatism in other realms, particularly LGBTQ issues. Notwithstanding, his commitment to the least of these is commendable. So I have decided to revisit my desire to join the sisters, taking my own vow of poverty, living, being, and doing, in community. At this point in my life I don’t feel like I’m losing out or missing anything. There’s no huge social sacrifice to make. My own husband, my own children, my own home and car? My students think I’m already a nun. As a matter of fact, maybe I really did miss my calling. I like what I see unraveling in this re-branding of Roman Catholicism via the new Francis. I just hope it’s not too late for me. Hey sisters, wait up! Here I come!



Happy Easter friends! And Happy April 1st (April Fools) ~ all due respect to the holy sisterhood but I’m joking about joining, I’ll probably never join the real nunnery and you probably wouldn’t even want me      images

soldiers on the hill

Today I was remembering this, and I offer no compulsory happy ending and not much of an analysis. It’s just a story.

One of the first times I entered a shantytown was in South Africa, and then again in Rio de Janeiro, and since then I’ve entered many more. In those spaces blatant structural violence is like a slap in the face. To be clear, I grew up around and even played as a child in lots of American ghettos on the east coast but there was something visually different on this international level. I remember a tropically warm October day in Rio de Janeiro. I was staying in a beautiful hotel at the corner where Copacabana met Ipanema. A Brazilian friend who ran an NGO inside favelas in Rio took me on a tour to see the work he was doing. We were in his car with the windows rolled down and the sun shining brightly. We sped past pretty beaches where pretty people lay under the sun. We went down highways and up narrow roads as the scenery began to change, roads began to crumble, and the structure of homes began to look homemade.  Finally, the car slowed down and rolled toward a favela entrance. I could see off in the distance that there were two young men holding what looked like long sticks. As we drove closer I realized those long sticks were actually rifles, AK-47’s, and the young men were actually teenage boys no more than 16 years old. As the boy “soldiers” walked toward our car, my friend demanded we make sure the windows were still all rolled down because they were tinted which always looked suspicious. The boys holding the rifles needed to be able to see who was inside the vehicle. I checked my window. The two youngsters walked to each side of the car, waving their rifles, and then stuck their heads fully inside to see. “I’m taking my American friend inside to see the place” my friend said as the boys peeked inside the car windows. They smiled warmly. I was nervous. They let us enter and as we drove inside slowly and I noticed another boy about 15 years old tucking a handgun into the back of his shorts. Another boy holding a rifle started talking to a girl who held a baby in her arms. The baby’s head was uncomfortably near the nose of the rifle, as if danger was not eminent. She rocked her baby and talked to the boy soldier. I asked my friend, “they all have guns but they look like nice boys, would they really shoot us?” His firm and quick response, “you better believe it!”

You better believe it. I’ll never forget that day or his response. It was like driving through a movie, but it was all too real.

you’ve been lied to, and other truths about educating girls

Richard E. Robbins

You’ve Been Lied to, and Other Truths About Educating Girls.                           Happy International Women’s Day! 

Found at    Posted: 03/07/2013 12:00 pm
There is a reason you keep hearing about the power of educating girls in the developing world. It’s a reason so simple that you will probably view it with suspicion, as I once did. It’s this: educating girls works. Really works.

But you’re probably like me. Skeptical. It’s an idea that seems too trendy. Or too simplistic. In truth, I was many months into working on Girl Rising, a film about educating girls in the developing world, when my producer, Martha Adams, first called me “the world’s most reluctant enthusiast.” We were at the end of a long day of interviewing girls in Cambodia. Girls who had unbelievable stories. Girls like Sokha, an orphan who had survived scavenging in the city dump, until she finally got a chance to go to school. Already in her early teens, she seized that chance like her life depended on it. She studied like a fiend. She shot to the top of her class so fast that she was moved to a better school. Now she is set to graduate from one of the top schools in the country. A child of the dump, on her way to college. It was a story that brought nearly everyone to tears. But not me. I was still skeptical. I was still reluctant to truly embrace something that was incontrovertibly true and unquestionably important.

I tell you this now not because I think you want to know about me, but because I want you to know that I came to this issue — educating girls — with no natural passion for the subject. It was not my life’s work. It was not my calling. It was just an idea floating around the vast universe of ideas, that bumped into me and stuck. I certainly didn’t ask it to stick with me. I was busy with my family, by budding career as a TV writer, my antipathy for the Los Angeles Lakers, and my general reluctance to engage in anything that might force me to leave my comfort zone. But sometimes ideas won’t let you go. For me, educating girls was like that.

There is no point in recounting the details of how and why I found myself learning about the power of educating girls. I could easily have read it in a column by Nick Kristof, or heard a TED lecture by Melinda Gates. The idea wasn’t hiding. It was getting plenty of play at conferences and in academic circles. It had made itself comfortable in the halls of the World Bank, and UNICEF. In the world of NGOs it was practically gospel.

So why did I doubt it for so long? Why do you? And that’s when I realized that I’d been lied to. And the sad truth was that I wanted to be lied to. The lie “they” told me was that nothing worked. That extreme poverty — the crippling, mind-bending deprivation that hundreds of millions of people endure — was just too big and too deep. And sure, maybe you can make a difference here and there. Maybe you could find a way to do some good. Help one deserving person. But really, at the end of the day, don’t worry yourself about it too much, because really nothing works.

In its most insidious form this lie was fed to me in an openly paternalistic, vaguely racist form from naysayers who objected to development aid and reinforced the notion that there is an “us” and a “them.” I was confidently among the people who looked upon that lie with suspicion. Scorn, even. But the less overt form of this lie somehow slipped past my skepticism and allowed me to go on living my comfortable life, equally confident that there was nothing else I should be doing. After all, what could I do, when really nothing worked?

And then, along came girls’ education — something that worked. And it wasn’t obscure or complicated or implausible. And every time I dug deeper, there was more evidence, studies, and statistics. Nobody is saying that educating girls is a cure-all for what ails the world. But it is so empirically and universally effective, that it demands we pay attention.

Of course, education does loads of things for girls that won’t surprise you at all — it provides self-esteem, teaches important life skills, and offers the kinds of choices a good education can give anyone. But it doesn’t stop there. It helps girls get married later, stay healthier, have fewer children, and have educated children of their own. So when girls get educated, economies grow, communities prosper, and poverty declines.

And this problem — the 66 million girls in the world who don’t go to school because they are too poor, or live too far away, or are too busy working — this isn’t one of those overwhelming global issues where we have to sit and hope someone smart comes along and figures out how to fix it. Not to say it’s simple, but nearly every one of us knows what a good school looks like. Or a good teacher. Or a student who is learning.

When I set about making this film, and telling everyone who would listen what I had learned about girls’ education, I discovered this other thing that is really important, too. Not about girls’ education, but about us. Many of us anyway. We are desperate to do something that will make a difference in the world. To help other people — and not because we want anything back, or because some boogey man will come get us if we don’t. But just because we can.

So I’m telling you this: You can make a difference. You can create real and meaningful change in the world. Help get girls into schools. Help them stay. Help them learn. It will work and you can do it. Your time and money can help build schools, train teachers, change laws, pay for uniforms and books. In the modern world you don’t have to send your money off into the unknown and hope it helps. You can get involved and do it on your own with some diligent research. Or you can look to one of the amazing organizations, like our partners in Girl Rising, who spend every day helping girls.

Find out more about the 10×10 Fund for Girls Education, which will help make an impact where it matters. Contributions are distributed evenly among our non-profit partners: A New Day Cambodia, CARE, Girl Up/United Nations Foundation, Partners in Health, Plan International USA, Room to Read, and World Vision. All of them operate girls’ education initiatives around the world, and the girls of the world need your help. So stop telling yourself there is nothing you can do, and do something.

life off the grid

Hebrews 13:10-16 I’ve been thinking a lot about this passage the past year… what does it mean and what might it look like to live life off the grid, outside of the cushion and exploitation of institutional structures, including the institutional structure of church.

“The altar from which God gives us the gift of himself is not for exploitation by insiders who grab and loot. In the old system, the animals are killed and the bodies disposed of outside the camp. The blood is then brought inside to the altar as a sacrifice for sin. It’s the same with Jesus. He was crucified outside the city gate- that is where he poured out the sacrificial blood that was brought to God’s altar to cleanse his people. So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is, not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This ‘insider world’ is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the city about to come. Let’s take our place outside with Jesus, no longer pouring out the sacrificial blood of animals but pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God’s in Jesus’ name. Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship- a different kind of sacrifice – that takes place in the kitchen and workplace and on the streets.”

Life off the grid: On the block, sidewalks, streets and alleys. Last night I attended the opening session of the Justice Conference in Philadelphia, about 4,000 evangelical types from around the country showed up. Mostly white as many had predicted. I was a little inspired, but mostly numb to the same ole same ole. Same voices, same presenters from conference to conference. Always white male organized and run, but I attend these faith based conferences as part of my work but also because I’m hoping to learn something a little bit new, or different, or challenging. I hope to hear something that speaks to other human realities. I usually don’t. My colleagues might tell me to stop complaining and do something myself. “Why not bring the new, different or challenging thing yourself?” That could be a fair retort, if I’m invited.

However, one thing I did enjoy last night was the recognition and honoring of several local, mostly unknown heroes and a shero or two, who have been laboring tirelessly in the city of Philadelphia for years. Many of them are known only in their communities. They don’t seek the limelight, they don’t write books, and they aren’t on the speaker’s circuit. Rather, they serve people where they are and nobody makes a big deal over them. They are the justice workers on the front lines doing the hard work not just talking about the hard work. I think of them and others like them, certainly many more women than were recognized last night, who take seriously the challenge in Hebrews to “go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is, not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking their share in the abuse of Jesus. This insider world is not their home, and they don’t take things for granted or go slack in working for the common good; they share what they have with others knowing that God takes particular pleasure in different acts of worship and a different kind of sacrifice – that takes place in the kitchen and workplace and on the streets.”

Orlando Costas once wrote, “Salvation lies outside the gates of the cultural, ideological, political and socio-economical walls that surround our religious compound and shape the structures of Christendom. It is not a ticket to a privileged spot in God’s universe, but rather freedom for service.”  ~Christ Outside the Gate: Mission Beyond Christendom

Let’s go and do likewise.

“be mine. kiss me. i’m yours”

Love is upon us, it’s almost here. February 14th a day vaguely associated with a third century Roman saint by the name of Valentine. There is no clear historical rational as to why courtly love is aligned with Saint Valentine, or a winged cherub with bow and arrow, but February 14th is a definite socially constructed, commercial and economic reality. Chocolate, champagne, hotel, flower and greeting card companies make huge money around February 14th and if we’re honest, we like that little extra attention on the day of the official declaration of Love. Who wouldn’t?Valentines

I remember making Valentine’s cards for mom and dad in school, also sending and receiving those candy hearts with messages on them, to/from classmates and little crushes. “Be Mine, I Like You, You’re Sweet.” It was fun and mostly harmless. By the teenage years Valentine’s day became tricky. No more candy hearts, a few broken hearts instead, unrequited crushes, and really awkward moments of wanting to be possessed by someone. So I thought.

Young adulthood was no less weird, but at least I was a bit more confident and sure of who I was. It was o.k. if I didn’t have a Valentine on Valentine’s day, and I’ve had a few. However, the current beauty of mid-life is that it doesn’t really matter anymore; even the pain of unrequited love fades more quickly and the ability to say what I want, who I want, what I like and don’t like, feels less strange and not too clumsy… usually. But is possession of another a noble goal? My worth, value and identity is not determined by whether or not I have a Valentine on Valentine’s day.

Watching the students I work with maneuver romantic relationships makes me smile and cringe, feel elated, and other times sad, because I remember being them. Shy, awkward, and literally trying to hide inside my skin; or confident, sassy and a bit over the top. Those were the times when I was probably hurting someone. Hurt people hurt people. The kind of vulnerability that true love requires can make the best of us feel a little silly and out of control, but whether it’s real friendship or romantic love, vulnerability is needed… a willingness to trust, be open, and reveal our true selves. Nakedness.

There were several amazing things about life in the garden before the fall of humanity. One was that there was no hint of possessiveness between the humans and God. Another was that there were no barriers between the people, and no barrier to God. The woman and the man were naked, and unashamed, and God dwelt in their midst. I’ll bet they were able to confidently say to one another outside of a context of possessiveness and ownership, “be mine, kiss me, I’m yours.”

So yea, for what it’s worth… for those who care, Happy Valentine’s Day.