Culture & Race, Restoration & Reconciliation, Social & Political Issues

A Plea for the Long Haul

road near trees
Photo by Simon Migaj on

Words. There are too many of them flying around, and also not nearly enough to adequately describe these days.

I scroll the feeds and see anger, sorrow, shock, despair. The emotions run deep, and even people who’ve never said a word publically about race feel compelled to say something.

A man was murdered by a policeman before our very eyes, and White America was bored enough to finally pay attention, and suddenly, we care. On one level, it’s heartening to see such broad support for the pain caused by the racism of our country. I’d rather the masses say something over nothing. But on another level, all the words flying around right now sink the ache of racism deep to my bones. As I listen, I can’t stop wondering if these newly awoken voices care enough to actually change for the long haul.

It’s one thing to post an MLK quote on social media; it’s another to deeply educate yourself about something you don’t understand.

It’s one thing to turn your screen black on Tuesday; it’s another to bend your life in a direction toward the ‘other’.

It’s one thing to publish a statement of support; it’s another to reshape hiring practices, institutional cultures, and orient systems toward supporting both members and leaders from diverse backgrounds.

It’s one thing to hold a sign on the corner for a day; it’s another to teach our children how to right injustice in the world for the span of their entire lives.

It’s one thing to sign a one-time petition; it’s another to support a movement on a regular basis that consistently advocates for the rights of the marginalized.

If we truly mean what we’re currently saying on social media, we need to be there for the long haul or our words will mean nothing. As the headlines fade, white guilt will creep in, and those who spoke out so confidently against racial injustice will quietly shrink back because they don’t know what to do next. To move forward, we must travel the long, bumpy road that builds the perseverance and character for the hope we now proclaim to actually mean something.

Let it be this time that those we sincerely desire to support aren’t once again left asking where we went, but rather, how we learned to stay.

Restoration & Reconciliation, Social & Political Issues, Spiritual Formation

Living deeply in a headline-driven world


It was the summer of 2001, and we had just returned from our first trip as a married couple to my husband’s home country of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was in the midst of a brutal civil war, and suicide bombings were a frequent tactic of the terrorist group seeking their own homeland in the north part of the country. Two days after we flew out of the country, the terrorists attacked the airport, destroying 3 airplanes and closing the airport for 14 hours. Out of the seven evenings that week, a member of my husband’s family was scheduled to fly in or out every night except for the day of the attack. We had narrowly escaped tragedy.

Because of our desire at the time to return to Sri Lanka to live and work, I had been praying for months that God would help me learn what it might mean to live in a country at war. When the terrorist attack hit so close to my family, my first response was, “Not like this, Lord. My family? This is too close to home.”

Less than two month later, 9/11 shook the nation. We lived near Washington DC at the time, so close to the Pentagon that the windows of our apartment shook when the plane crashed into it. As the day progressed and we learned more details of the attack, I remembered my request that God would teach me what it might mean to live in a war-torn country. “But not like this, Lord,” I remembered pleading. “Please—not so close to home.”

In the midst of my pleas for safety, I was forced to reconcile the fact that not everyone had the privilege to be “introduced” to life-threatening danger. Many around the world had lived in the midst of a warzone for their entire lives. While friends in Sri Lanka reminisced fondly about the “sweet times together as a family” hiding under the dining room table during bombings, I would shake my head with amazement that they found light in the midst of such deep darkness.

Over the course of our 20-year interracial relationship, I have held growing anxiety within about racial tensions in our country. I’ve anticipated explosive race wars for most of my adult life, and each headline of their growing intensity deepens the ache inside me for the future of my children. As I watched the White Nationalist rallies in Charlottesville last weekend, my prayer resurged once again, “Not like this, Lord.”

Indeed, we live in tumultuous times, but these are still the times God given us. The question is how we will live in them. Friends of color express increasing levels of stress and trauma while some white friends are just beginning to grasp that the unrest expressed in the civil rights movement that has been simmering for decades, that our country is nowhere near being “over this yet”. The Message’s version of Romans 12 offers guidance on how to place our lives before God in times of such weariness and tumult: 


So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. (v1)

While some white people understand that expressing color-blindness is dismissive and patronizing to people of color, it’s harder for us to see how ‘well-adjusted’ we are to our own white culture. What do we speak about when we describe “the best” music, food, authors, TV shows, Christian figures? Do we notice when preferences we express as “normal” are really just normal to a white mainstream standard? Now is not a time to kick back and continue on as normal. We must ask difficult questions of both ourselves, our churches, and our culture.


Counter-cultural maturity

Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (v2)

Rather than knee-jerk defense of a specific politic, Christ followers need to pursue maturity that demonstrates values like love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness, and self-control. This does not necessarily mean we keep our opinions private, but rather that our actions and words are continually seasoned and influenced by these things when we do share or act.


Humble focus

If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face. (v6-8)

In a world where words are flung back and forth at each other like bombs, modeling humble and focused behavior stems from a steady and mature relationship with God. It means praying our way both through difficult headlines as well as through the stubborn and prideful attitudes we uncover in our own hearts. It could mean speaking truth in uncomfortable ways or listening to perspectives we have not considered before.


Deep friendship

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. (v9-10)

Now is the time extend a hand, to check-in with a friend, to pray fervently against the evil that unsettles our souls. For some, loving deeply may mean setting aside our own understanding so that we can listen to others’ pain while for others, it may mean fighting fiercely to protect and defend the injustices happening in their own communities.


Perseverant compassion

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” (v11-19)

Paul focuses on compassion for both ourselves as well as our enemies. “Don’t burn out,” he warns in tandem with “bless your enemies” and “laugh with your friends”. Profit-driven headlines fuel the temptation toward constant anger, and if we are to provide a counter narrative to the story of hate being consistently told, we cannot let the headlines dictate this story for our lives as well. This means stepping away at times to laugh with friends so that we have energy left to not curse our enemies, to not hit back, and to remember that there is beauty in everyone.


Social & Political Issues

When deporting criminals is inhumane: Speak up for an Iraqi Christian veteran and US prisoner with a complex story


Every story has at least two sides. While it may be easier for the public to swallow a “We’re focusing on deporting convicted criminals” perspective from the current administration, it’s still far from a one-sided story. The story below details the complex story of the uncle of some my former (Christian college) students that illustrates this complexity well.

No country should betray someone who has served and as a result been broken by it in this manner. Please sign and circulate this story widely and quickly.

My uncle, Nahidh Shaou, is an Iraqi Chaldean Christian and US Army veteran who faces imminent deportation to Baghdad. He is currently being held by ICE awaiting deportation. Here is a petition about his case as well as an article about ICE’s larger plan to deport Iraqis to Baghdad.

My uncle Nahidh came to the US on a green card when he was five, was deployed to Korean while serving in the military, and then committed a crime for which he served 35 years in prison. He was a model inmate and quickly reformed. We feel his deportation to Baghdad is a death sentence and that he will be targeted by ISIS for his Christian faith and for serving the US Army. He knows no one in Iraq and does not speak Arabic. Likewise, the Iraqi government has no record/documentation of him as an Iraqi citizen, meaning he wouldn’t even be able to acquire a passport to flee the country.

Social & Political Issues

Faith-based resources to support immigrants under the Trump administration

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

from Matthew 25

It’s no secret that the world may change significantly for immigrants under the coming Trump administration. Dreamers, one of the demographics most potentially impacted by Trump’s damaging rhetoric surrounding immigration, have been in a state of shock and fear since his election given his stated intentions to reverse the DACA program. On a broader level, the refugee crisis rages worldwide, leaving those distanced from these tragedies feeling shocked and helpless.

As Christians, the biblical call to care for the stranger is clear. For individuals and churches across the country compelled to increase their understanding of ways to help the vulnerable populations in our midst and around the world, the following resources are an excellent place to find practical options for faith-based initiatives and resources to support immigrants, refugees, and immigration reform.

Sign the Matthew 25 pledge

This weekend, I joined several hundred Christians from across Southern California seeking to prepare to fulfill this call at a training by Alexia Salvatierra (featured in 101 Culturally Diverse Christian Voices) sponsored by the Matthew 25 movement. This movement is seeking 1 million signatures by inauguration day on its Matthew 25 pledge to “protect and defend the vulnerable in the name of Jesus.” Click here to add your name. They are also encouraging churches and organizations to share this on their websites and in services.

Organizations to support

Faith Rooted Organizing: News, resources, training, and networking opportunities for organizations interested in supporting vulnerable people in the US.

Evangelical Immigration Table: Tools, statistics, resources, and media for challenging the church to play a key role in support immigrants in the US. Start with the challenge for yourself to pray through Biblical passages about immigration for 40 days.

Interfaith Immigration Coalition: a partnership of faith-based organizations committed to enacting fair and humane immigration reform. They advocate for immigration policies, educate faith communities, and serve immigrant populations around the country.

Sanctuary Movement: an organization of faith communities supporting immigrants facing deportation.

Resources to Read

Welcoming the Stranger: Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang

“Immigration is one of the most complicated issues of our time. Voices on all sides argue strongly for action and change. Christians find themselves torn between the desire to uphold laws and the call to minister to the vulnerable. In this book World Relief staffers Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang move beyond the rhetoric to offer a Christian response to immigration. They put a human face on the issue and tell stories of immigrants’ experiences in and out of the system. With careful historical understanding and thoughtful policy analysis, they debunk myths and misconceptions about immigration and show the limitations of the current immigration system. Ultimately they point toward immigration reform that is compassionate, sensible and just, as they offer concrete ways for you and your church to welcome and minister to your immigrant neighbors.”

The church leader’s guide to immigration (World Relief)

“Pastors and other church leaders are uniquely positioned in immigrant communities to develop relationships and demonstrate the truth of the gospel. The Church Leader’s Guide to Immigration has been designed as a resource for those on the front lines of ministry who need practical guidance. The questions in this guide were gathered by the authors over several years from local churches and national denominational leaders in the U.S. The questions and answers are not intended to be exhaustive, but designed to lay a foundation for further study. Each section lists additional resources that offer a more in-depth discussion of the presented topics.”

Faith-rooted organizing: Mobilizing the church in service to the world by Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel

“With so many injustices, small and great, across the world and right at our doorstep, what are people of faith to do? Since the 1930s, organizing movements for social justice in the U.S. have largely been built on assumptions that are secular origin―such as reliance on self-interest and having a common enemy as a motivator for change. But what if Christians were to shape their organizing around the implications of the truth that God is real and Jesus is risen? Alexia Salvatierra has developed a model of social action that is rooted in the values and convictions born of faith. Together with theologian Peter Heltzel, this model of “faith-rooted organizing” offers a path to meaningful social change that takes seriously the command to love God and to love our neighbor as ourself.”

Local Networking

As a means of exploring this issue further, I’d like to explore the potential of starting a small group of Christians in the Northeast SGV exploring these ideas using the curriculum below. If you live in this area and are interested in participating, please complete the contact form below and I’ll be in touch with more details.

Small group curriculum: “Welcoming the Stranger: Discovering and Living God’s heart for Immigrants” (NAE and World Relief)

Belief, Social & Political Issues

When white evangelicals gained the world but lost their soul

I am not surprised that Trump won.

I am disgusted, saddened, and angry, but not surprised for I have lived amongst the Trump supporters as an interracial family. They threw eggs at my house, tried to run my husband off the road, drove pick-up trucks with confederate flags back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth in front of my house, and made threatening phone calls to my home in the middle of the night.

Having seen it up close, I understand these Trump supporters in a way that many of the elite leftists can’t. First and foremost, they are people, just like the rest of us, making a life for themselves. Many love their families and care for their neighbors and work hard to provide for their children. While I will never condone their racist perspectives or hate-filled actions toward my family, I can understand where their angst is born. Everything they know is changing. The small towns that used to be vibrant communities are now desolate piles of abandoned buildings. The jobs their grandparents taught them to rely on are gone and there’s nowhere to turn – no education to lean on, no career back-up plan. Their world is bleak and it makes sense that Trump’s message to Make America Great Again appealed to them.

I am, however, speechless and astounded that white evangelical Christians voted for Trump in such overwhelming numbers, 81% to be exact—the highest percentage of such evangelicals ever to vote for a Republican candidate.


I grew up in the evangelical tradition, and learned well that the pure message of the gospel is this:

Here is how we overcome evil with good.

Be genuine in your love for others. Hate what is evil. Hold on to what is good. Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give others more honor than you want for yourselves. Work hard. Serve God with all your heart. Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes. Pray at all times. Share with people who need help. Bring strangers in need into your homes.

Wish good for those who do bad things to you. Wish them well and do not curse them. Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad. Live together in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant. Do not think how smart you are.

If someone does wrong to you, do not pay them back by doing wrong to them. Try to do what everyone thinks is right. Do your best to live in peace with everyone. Don’t try to punish others when they wrong you. Leave that to God, for he has said that he will repay those who deserve it. Instead, do this:

If your enemy is hungry, feed them; If your enemy is thirsty, give them a drink. Doing this will be like pouring burning coals on their head. (Disarming love requires creative action. In this way you are both showing love and helping them to see their shame for what they have done)

Do not be overcome by evil. Overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21*

I’m deeply grateful for this theological grounding. It has served me well and continues to be a deep and abiding foundation of my life. As a result, it astounds me that so many of these believers who taught me this depth of faith weren’t more outraged by Trump’s blatantly unbiblical and unchristian values. ‘Character’ and ‘virtue’ have long been a cry of the conservatives and this value all but disappeared the closer we got to election day.

While I can empathize with conservative arguments for voting Republican, it is simply inexcusable to me to give Trump’s horrible treatment of people a ‘pass’ simply because he speaks the language these evangelicals want to hear. Comfortable with and unaware of their privilege, many are still trying to figure out why people are so upset about this. In his article, Church, we’ve got some explaining to do, Veggies Tales creator Phil Vischer sums up the conundrum perfectly:

Last night America voted to transition from our first African-American President to a President whose campaign was marked with charges of implicit and explicit racism and xenophobia.

Former KKK “Imperial Wizard” David Duke claimed after the victory that Trump couldn’t have won without the support of “my people,” which, in this case, would be white nationalists and white supremacists.

Trump was also supported by a significant majority of the white church in America. White Christians, “alt right” white nationalists and white supremacists found themselves side-by-side pushing Donald Trump into the White House. (Suddenly the repetition of the color “white” becomes too ironic to ignore.)

Now think about this:

The world is growing more brown. America is growing more brown. Global Christianity is growing more brown. More and more of our neighbors – those we’re called by Christ to love – are various shades of brown. And yet here we stand, white Christians, having just pushed a man into office who built his campaign on pledges to wall off and otherwise restrict the movements of brown people.

I know white evangelical who voted for Trump. I have spoken with them about it and know that some of them made this choice with great angst, sorrow, and protest to the conservative platform. In the end, they could not, in good conscience, vote for Hillary for reasons that are personally important to them—not because they are racist. However, the exit polls on the evangelical vote suggest a great deal of blind devotion to a political party who likes the power it gained in the era of the Religious Right.  When you read the history books, this plotline never ends well.

Your privilege is showing, white church, and it’s getting in the way of your true message. That may not have been your intent, but it certainly supports the notion that the white evangelical church as a whole has checked its mind at the door for the sake of political power. “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind,” author Mark Noll predicted over twenty years ago. “American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for several generations.”

To those relieved by Trump’s win, my friend Stephanie offers this challenge:

You 80% white evangelicals who voted for Trump, who thought it was because of your faith that you had to— you need to get talking with your black and brown evangelical friends who voted the complete opposite and find out what’s going on with their faith. Because somehow their faith told them it wasn’t okay…

I don’t think you realize how badly you’ve wounded the body of Christ in this election. I don’t think you realize how heart-sore, disillusioned, and embittered you’ve made people. And maybe you think— “Those fears are unfounded. There’s not really going to be a wall, or deportations, or any of those crazy things.” Maybe you voted because you felt like it was the lesser of two evils. 

But those are real fears. And so if you want to be reconciled to your black and brown brothers and sisters, it’s going to take a lot of work to make up that lost ground. A lot. If you thought we could just sing and pray together and it would be okay before, that opportunity has completely passed us by. There is no chance of that kind of “reconciliation” any more.

My facebook feed is blowing up with angry conflict; and I’ve told myself to stay out of the fray, to not care, to keep quiet. But complicit silence is the white evangelical norm in the face of prejudice, and I don’t walk that path anymore. Call me angry, strident, or a pot-stirrer; but the hope of the gospel means enough to me that I can’t bear to watch it compromised by so many evangelicals who have, in Jesus’ words, ‘gained the whole world’, but in the process lost their souls and their minds in the pursuit of political power.

May the Lord have mercy on our souls.

*Thanks to my FB Friend Luke Owsley for this succinct summary of the Good News from the ICB, TLB, and ESV Versions of the Bible.
Social & Political Issues

To the white church who did not pray for the black man on Sunday

Sturbuck Community Church

I know that your heart is good. I see it nearly every week in your pastors and services, in the softness of your hearts toward God, in your love for each other and for your children. I see it when you serve the community with vacation bible schools and fundraisers for wells in Africa and city wide clean ups. I hear it in your songs and in your prayers, in your Sunday schools and in your sermons.

But Sunday, if you did not pray for the black man right alongside the police man, you missed the heart of God. If a black man had sat in your midst and heard you pray only for the police man and the police man’s family, but not the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the decades of innocent black men killed by police men, I would not have blamed him for standing and shouting out in the middle of your prayer, “What the hell about me?! Do you care about me at all?!” And I would not have blamed him if he stormed out of your sanctuary and wept on your steps, desperate because he found no sanctuary in your midst.

Where were you on Sunday, white church who could not see past its own skin? How long will you stay silent while your brothers and sisters suffer?  You wonder why people of color do not join your ranks or stay when they visit you…perhaps it has something to do with the people in your pews who smirk to each other and whisper, “I’m so sick of this #blacklivesmatter thing” when they don’t know you’re listening. Perhaps it’s because you don’t even notice that you didn’t pray for their pain or acknowledge their anguish and you are still stubbornly defending your self-righteous actions. Perhaps it’s because they are worn thin of hearing Jesus tossed about as an excuse to dismiss centuries of racial oppression supported by their very walls.

You may accuse me of being angry—I know that’s not an acceptable way to communicate in our culture—but I can no longer swallow my sorrow silently while you pretend that nothing is happening. More than just police families are weeping for their sons and husbands and fathers, and they have been doing so for centuries. Failing to pray for them is akin to turning your back, sticking your fingers in your ears, and squeezing your eyes shut tight. We are not first graders, family—we are followers of a God who holds a deep and mighty love for the police man and the black man in equal measure; and we will not grow up until we start praying like it.

For further reading

Social & Political Issues, Women

White women and the problem of race

I wrote a follow-up article to Abby Norman’s brilliant piece on Picking up the Trash of White Supremacy for SheLoves magazine this week. Let’s do better work on these issues, ladies.

While many of us have experienced this reality living as a woman in a man’s world, we know a whole lot less about doing it as a white person in a non-white world. We champion female equality, quote statistics about glass ceilings, and shout our hard-earned rights from the rooftops; but when it comes to race, we’re often shamefully ignorant. We fail to apply the lessons we’ve learned from our own emancipation to the emancipation of others. It’s the Fall all over again, and we’re left holding the garbage bag of our own self-centeredness.

Read more here.

Restoration & Reconciliation, Social & Political Issues

A lament for the LGBT & Muslim communities in the aftermath of Orlando

May peace be upon us all..jpg

The headlines jolted us awake early this morning.

Twenty dead.

Then at least fifty; the deadliest mass shooting in the US to date.

My heart sank as I realized that the LGBT & Muslim communities would feel the strongest impact of the headlines. For everyone in these communities, I lament.

For those in the LGBT community who feel the intense personal attack of this action, the fear this confirms yet again for your safety in public settings, I mourn with you. For the wounds this rips wide open as the judgmental voices attempt to diminish your inherent value, I ache with you.  For the tears you shed as you watch the headlines unfold in devastating proportions, I weep with you.

My Facebook feed reminds me that I do not stand alone in solidarity with the LGBT community today. However, what is noticeably missing is support for the many Muslims for whom this shooting will instantly create guilt-by-association. As such, I express lament for these communities as well.

For the many faithful and peaceful Muslims who are as enraged by the horrors of ISIS as the rest of the world, I mourn that we allow such acts to also unquestionably define who you are. For those who seek to live out their faith with sincerity and devotion, I ache when I hear the entirety of 1.6 billion people folded into an extremist sliver. For the mothers who love their children as much as I love mine and the fathers who seek to teach them well, I weep that this may give you pause to wonder if others will love and teach them as you do.

As the world stands with you in mourning, know that we long for peace with you today, weep for the evil that should not be, and hear the deep pain that it creates in your hearts. May peace be upon us all.


Social & Political Issues

Christian art you won’t find in a Christian bookstore

In a commodity culture we have been conditioned to believe that nothing has intrinsic value. – Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity

I am not an artist, but I do love beautiful images. I am a Christian, but I do not especially love the bible-verse and/or cross-laden art that adorns many a protestant Christian bookstore. For me, a picture of a flower with a Bible verse at the bottom feels slapped-on and bland, commodifying faith into a $49.95 framed wall covering. To make matters even harder, this art sometimes includes a white Jesus, an American flag, or a lacy heart with bluebirds flying around the edges. It leaves me wondering what happened to the art part of Christian art…

Thankfully, there are a whole host of artists creating meaningful, global, and beautiful Christian art that causes one to pause and consider our faith in new ways. Check out these beautiful and thoughtful works of art!

Mary Consoles Eve by Sister Grace Remington


The Risen Lord by He Qi
The Risen Lord by He Qi
RefuJesus by NakedPastor
Jesus of the People by Janet McKenzie
The Last Supper by Sadao Watanabe
Nazareth by Father John Bautista Giuliani
Sermon on the Mount by Laura James
The First Supper by Jane Evershed
In His Image by William Zdinak
Christ in the Breadline by Fritz Eichenberg

Any favorites I missed here? Link to it in the comments below!

Further Reading

Social & Political Issues

Sorry, Mom. Potato chips are no longer the downfall of society. Donald Trump is.

In the way that most health-conscious mothers do, my mom once off-handedly declared potato chips ‘the downfall of society’. Now a health conscious mother myself, I have great empathy toward her desperate but hyperbolic attempt to convince our youthful metabolisms to take heed of their coming threat. However, when I saw the most recent propaganda from the Donald Trump campaign using children to sweetly sing about America crushing the rest of the world,  it became immediately clear that his campaign had debunked my mom’s prophetic words.

Speculators lament his campaign as a “national mistake“, hopeful it will at some point clarify itself as a joke, a media circus, or at least a conspiracy to promote Hillary Clinton. Yet what’s hardest to ignore is the number of people who appear to actually support Trump’s ideas. His campaign is no longer as simple as the salty snack that we mistook him for. Our overindulgence on his addictive-but-unhealthy appeal is now cultivating an obese empathy for renewed support of a modern-day inquisition.

In the developed west, we tend to think of Inquisition as an old word, something that belongs with the Spanish in the 15th century. “The scariest thing to me about the word,” writes Kathleen Norris in her book Amazing Grace, “is the way that it can haunt ordinary conversation … When power is so heavily weighted between two people, fear all too easily enters into the equation.

This is a primary offense of the Trump campaign: it wields power toward anyone who does not fit its mold to make them feel afraid. Immigrants would not be flocking to America in record numbers if the world did not see something unique in our fiber. Yet, the Trump propoganda threatens this long-lived tradition of welcoming the stranger to our shores. Lest we think that such xenophobia is a new concept in the US, our founding father Benjamin Franklin labeled German immigrants “swarthy” and advocated to keep them out of Pennsylvania:

Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become  Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?”

Germans in his day were demonized for being lazy, ignorant, clannish, unable to assimilate, and unwilling to speak English. They were blamed for a wide array of societal ills including Pennsylvania’s harsh winters. Laws were made against speaking German and German education that were later repealed. Trump is now making similar accusations against immigrants of all backgrounds in the US today. Ironically, he himself is of German heritage.

More than social inequality

While its advocacy of a segregated society is immensely disturbing, promoting social inequality is not the only the hazard of the Trump campaign. At its core, it chips away at the essential foundation of a civil society: conversation. Kathleen Norris offers further wisdom:

The inquisitor has the answers in hand and does not wish to change them. It is good to determine, when someone asks you a question, whether they are asking in a good spirit, or conducting an inquisition. When it is the latter, one may begin to feel that the person one is speaking to is not listening at all but merely biding time. Clicking off the points against you; waiting, like a lion, for the proper time to attack.

Inquisition begins, then, in the human heart. And it is what has occurred in the twentieth century, not the fifteenth, that should most concern us. For it is in our modern, “civilized” age that we have been forced to confront the depth of the inquisitorial spirit.

Ultimately, Norris concludes, the spirit of inquisition manifests itself as “a debilitating suspicion and lack of good will” far more frequently and insidiously than the violent conflicts that dominate headlines. Sadly, it is no longer an exaggeration to compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. When the spirit to destroy others with our power supersedes our desire to build unity with them, we will cease to be the United States of America.

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Culture & Race, Social & Political Issues

5 myths that stop white people from facing race

While much has improved since the days of segregation laws and public lynchings, the struggle of racism has by no means gone away. It feels like there’s a racial battle nearly every week in the news; and I watch the stories unfold with a sense of shock and sorrow. Conservative pundits’ accusations of ‘race baiting’ and ‘playing the race card’ capture headlines, but a less publicized, more complex story I hear from white people around me is a sad confusion over how racism is still causing these kinds of problems. Truth be told, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by this confusion to the point of checking out completely. While self-care is sometimes necessary for those deeply involved in difficult conversations, I’m keenly aware that it’s far too easy for white people to disengage because we don’t have to care; our skin gives us that option.

In her article, White People Facing Race: Uncovering Myths that Keep Racism in PlacePeggy McIntosh (2009) explores five myths that keep white people from understanding the experience of other races. Understanding these assumptions has helped me shift my mindset when I find myself wanting to run away from the on-going racial conflict in our country.

The Myth of Meritocracy

In a majority world, individuals are viewed as the sole component of society. There are no “groups”, only people. As a result, people get what they want and deserve based on their individual choices. The American mantra of ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ reinforces this sentiment: all you have to do is try and you’ll succeed because “nothing stands in your way”. There is little  acknowledgment of the impact that systems have on individuals.

This myth stands most potent when looking at the stories of African-American families talking to their sons about the realities of race today. In his book, Between the World and I, Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlanticshares this from a letter to his son:

You stayed up till 11 p.m. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.

Having known many young black men who have done nothing to deserve the burden of this reality, I mourn the disconnect in society that makes it possible.

The Myth of Manifest Destiny

Because racism is embedded so deeply in the foundations of our country, it remains difficult for those who have traditionally held the power to recognize. Our childhood history lesson of Manifest Destiny teaches that God gave this land to America, and that we are, as a result, his chosen people. Seeing the US as “a nation found by God” keeps us from acknowledging the long-term impact of the blatantly evil and sinful stories like Native American genocide, African slavery, Japanese internment, and segregation laws.

CaptureWhile we don’t see campaign signs like this anymore (though I wouldn’t put it past Donald Trump), this sentiment still rings true in the hearts of many as issues like racial segregation, urban gentrification & property values, and white-boy-club politics play out.

The Myth of White Racelessness

When discussing race, many white people struggle to identify cultural characteristics they share with other whites. YouTube points out some of these characteristics in some not-so-gentle and painfully accurate ways. Growing up as a member of the majority can foster a “I don’t have a culture. I’m just normal.” perspective that assumes only other people have race. 

Additionally, white people’s participation in racial oppression isn’t seen as racial activity, but simply as “history.” We see it time and again through the merchandising of products like nude pantyhose and flesh colored crayons. We see it in advertisements that only include only white faces and public response to shootings-by-white-people versus shootings-by-brown people. When brown people do something bad, it’s immediately attributed to their race. When white people do something bad, they have no race.

For white people to grasp the racial dynamics, it’s crucial that they first understand the role that our own race plays in society and history. Failing to these face these realities creates a short-sighted and ignorant perspective that will only serve to repeat history, not redeem it.

The Myth of Monoculture

Viewing values through a single lens leads many to operate on the assumption that there is one “American” culture that everyone experiences in similar ways. This is still the myth I catch myself practicing most frequently when I slip up and make comments like, “Christians think…” or “Americans say…” when what I really mean  is “White evangelical Christians in the US think…” or “White middle-class Americans say…” Lumping everyone into one group creates an unspoken expectation that people of color adapt to the “white way”.

Considering others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3) means that it’s essential that we don’t unintentionally demand that others follow cultural norms that we don’t even realize we have. Such differences present themselves through how we view diverse perspectives on theology, worship style, or individual spirituality.

The Myth of White Moral Elevation

Years ago, I chaperoned a very diverse group of high school students on a field trip to the nation’s capital building. I grew quickly ashamed when I saw painting after painting like this:


Where were the role models that reflected the background of non-anglo students? What possibilities would they imagine for themselves if these were the only people credited with America’s greatness?

The myth of white moral elevation creates a societal bias that fosters a subconscious superiority complex . While it’s never directly stated, this bias strings through the media, education, and society that communicates that it’s natural for white people to be in the limelight but exceptional for people of color. This attitude comes through in statements like, “He’s so articulate” or “She doesn’t act black.” We see it time and again in our church leadership structures, elected political officers, and community leaders. Even in the most diverse regions of the country, the majority of people who pull the power-making strings are white. To truly grapple with how privilege impacts ourselves and society, we need to be regularly asking why this is still our reality in one of the most diverse countries in the world.


While this is only the beginning of the conversation, it’s a great place to begin. Understanding race is not a one-time-thing to wipe our hands clean from. It is a never-ending process of listening and learning in order to become a safe place to hold the stories of those around us with gentler hands.

Want to learn more?

Social & Political Issues

Jesus stands with the refugees

Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt.…Matthew 2:13-14

My daughter’s best friend is a Syrian refugee. She is not a terrorist or the daughter of a terrorist or some other horrible caricature the Trump supporters might reduce her to. She is, simply, a child. She lives in our town with her parents who are improving their English and an ornery older brother, but worries about her grandmother and the cousins they left behind. My daughter thinks she has the striking look of Anne of Green Gables combined with the good-hearted nature of Pollyanna. They eat lunch together every day, share secrets, and navigate each other through the perils of the first year of middle school.

Unlike many their age, sometimes they speak of war for it is no stranger to either of them. Her best friend speaks of bombs too-close-to-home, of fleeing across borders, of lives lost, and of hopes of returning home one day. My daughter does not know the impact of war intimately like her best friend does; but being half-Sri Lankan, she has never been entirely protected from the realities of war either. As a young child, we would quietly slip her into the war-wracked country to share giggles with grandparents, play with cousins, and sing hymns for peace from the midst of great tragedy. The lasting impact of a 25-year civil war does not fade quickly into silence.

“She’s just like me, mama,” my daughter tells me. “I’ve never had a friend my heart feels so close to.”

Her words send me back in time to my first kindred spirit, an enthusiastic Swedish immigrant who welcomed the new-kid in fifth grade. “Hi!” she bounced toward me in the lunch line, “Can I sit by you today?” A newcomer to the US herself, she instinctively knew the value of extending a kind hand to lonely souls. Our bond sealed over the simplicity of childhood fun like dressing up as twin punk-rockers for trick-or-treat and sharing secrets at recess. Though our paths diverged long ago, we share a profound affection for one another to this day.

Hers is not the only such story of being welcomed to ‘my own country’ in my life. I think of the kind refugees and immigrants in my ESL classes who welcomed me to California. Many were Egyptian, Syrian, or Chinese Christians in search of a place to lay their head where following Jesus didn’t risk death. Their heads often hung low for the angst of separated families, the sorrow of what-could-have-been, and the loss of successful professional careers and social statuses. Even so, there were moments when I saw their eyes lift as they shared food from home, raised their arms in dance, or expressed their deep gratefulness with a consistent “thank you, teacher.” Their resilience sustained me at a time when I needed healing and welcome myself.

My husband’s parents tell stories of their early days in America – tales of how his father ate only yogurt for months and his mother taught herself the rules of American football. There are stories of falling on ice for the first time, of navigating new systems alone, and of deep longing for home. My great-grandparents were immigrants themselves, and their stories trickle down through the cracks in our family story. While not always pretty, it still comes through loud and clear with a decent amount of perseverance, grit, and hope.

Stories like these ring deep as I mourn the headlines of rejecting refugees and holding immigrants at bay. While the fight to welcome strangers is nothing new, it is still one I regard with deep sorrow because of the great goodness I have learned from them. From a refugee family himself, Jesus surely must grieve this disconnect as well. I am grateful to the artist who puts an image to Jesus’ sorrow over our world’s struggle to care for the refugees in our midst:

RefuJesus by NakedPastor. Print available for purchase on Etsy.

In these days of increasingly polarized and politicized debate, may his followers silence the naysayers by living out his words:

 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

Matthew 25:35-36

Further Reading:

Social & Political Issues, Spiritual Formation

Aching thoughts on Ferguson

It is the end of a long week with teenagers. #thankyouJesus

They are precious, those half-baked and hope-filled ones, but they are entirely exhausting. In quiet moments, my heart hangs heavy from hints of broken lives and battered souls. They try to hide it behind apathy or attitude, but still I see it for the deep-aching that it is.

My own soul has been deep-aching again. The current state of the country brings up conflicting sides of my identity: the “super-white” side of me that doesn’t inherently grasp the racial atrocities at hand and the “recovering racist” in me that knows they are very real and raw for many in our country. 

It shakes me that after all these years I still don’t always get it, that I still have to ask someone to explain to me the realities of pain they’ve known. It shakes me that I don’t know what-the-hell-to-say as the two sides shout it out between pain and pride. It shakes me that, in my teenager-induced exhaustion, I am afraid to say anything because I fear offending both sides with my own instability.


When I returned to the Midwest last summer, I had a haunting dream.

I am waiting on the shore, desperately anxious, torn-apart for my husband and children who I have just learned are on a sinking ship. I am standing on solid ground on the shore, powerless over their fate, watching the horizon for any sign of their lives.

Suddenly, they arrive together in a life boat. They stagger over its edge into my arms and my relief over their safety overwhelms me. I collapse in tears. 

They are alive. 

They didn’t sink with the ship. 

We are safe now, together.

There is no clearer symbol of our move from the rural midwest to Southern California. A few days later, I had another dream:

My family and I are huddled together behind a door, hiding from an angry man in dingy overalls with a sawed-off shotgun who is shouting racial slurs at us. I cower in fear.

Suddenly, my brother and his wife are there, standing firm between the man and the door hiding us, “You cannot go in!” they shout at him as they fight him off. “We won’t let you hurt them.” 

I awaken, shaken again by the depth of protection I felt because someone saw and acknowledged our pain, even if they did not fully understand it.


The dreams fade away and simmer deep under the layers of daily life. Months later, these headlines shake me back to reality and I cannot help but think of the many families who aren’t rescued from the sinking ships, who are torn apart by the raging waters of racial brokenness. I think of the relief that comes from knowing those who seek deeper understanding, and the pain of navigating those those who assume too much. I think of the weariness that sinks deep when we feel alone in the battle.

Slowly, a gratefulness arises for the shaking that these headlines bring. We’ve needed it for quite some time now, and the time has come for more of us to stand firm with a voice that shouts, “We won’t let them hurt you.” 

There is perhaps nothing we modern people need more than to be genuinely shaken up,” wrote Jesuit priest Alfred Delp in his essay The Shaking of Advent. “Where life is firm we need to sense its firmness; and where it is unstable and uncertain and has no basis, no foundation, we need to know this too and endure it.”

This – both the firm and the unstable – is what the Ferguson headlines, the #blacklivesmatter statements, and yes, even my tiring-teens reveal. Some of us have been living unshaken for far too long. 

The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth,” challenged Delp from his cell in a Nazi prison. He was condemned as a traitor for his opposition to Hitler and hanged in 1945.

As the protests, hashtags, debates and dismissals abound, I’m spending my Advent asking the Lord to preserve us all in ways that help us listen to and value each other. I’m praying that this shaking will teach me how to be a defender of other weary souls who need it like my family once did. I’m praying for protection from weariness for those standing firm in the trenches to create something whole from this brokenness. I’m praying for an adolescent nation that needs to grow-up and come to terms with its broken reality. I’m praying we will all pause long enough to remember what is firm and holy and good.

It is this soul-remembering season of Advent that reminds the weary world to rejoice. May the wait for His Coming teach us how to love one another better in a shaking and shattered world.

Further Reading

Alfred Delp Quote from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, December 5.

Restoration & Reconciliation, Social & Political Issues

What I wish we’d remember a little louder on 9/11

I’m usually fairly quiet on 9/11 as it’s a day that holds a lot of memories. We lived 5 minutes from the Pentagon at the time and the plane crash shook the windows of our small apartment right along with my personal sense of stability. A family member worked in the WTC and we spent the entire morning awaiting his phone call. Thankfully, it came and we breathed deep sighs of relief.

Over the years, 9/11 has become a day where we honor the ones who ran toward rather than running away. When all of human instinct screams to protect itself, those brave souls did not. They were heroes in the truest sense of the world, and none of us will ever forget their sacrifice.  I hear a lot of references to this idea that Fred Rogers encapsulates so well:

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 9.12.35 PM

While so much of me resonates with these words and the value they place on so many who sacrificed that day, I also find myself feeling a lingering hole in the dialog about who matters when 9/11 rolls around.

“My dad says that all Muslims are bad,” a boy in my son’s third grade class shared this week. It’s become a norm – this alienating story of the West vs. the Middle East. Media stereotypes from both sides have flown for over a decade, and now, as I honor the heroes, I also mourn the victims that have been born from the political rubble of 9/11.

As a kid from the 80s, I saw the exact same story play out with the Russians. I remember distinctly thinking that Russians were evil, dangerous, and scary and that Nancy Reagan was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen (which of course meant that Reagan’s policies had to be right…).

Like so many today, I missed the critical reality that people are distinct from political agendas. In his song, Russians, Sting captures the hole I feel every 9/11:

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too*

In my heart today, I hold all of those mothers on the other side – Russian, Iraqi, Saudi, Afghani – who love their children too, who hold them in their arms at night, tears brimming over what the world has come to. I picture the fathers tickling little ones, teaching them simplicities of daily life and the hope for a better world. I remember stories of widows like Susan Retik and Patty Quigley – women who lost their husbands that day and now fight for the plight of Afghan widows.

They are heroes, too, all the ones who love their children. May our remembrance of them honor the hope they offer to the world.

swirl *Listen to the whole song here:

Related Posts


Education, Social & Political Issues

Life’s unexpected gifts

To the casual observer, it would be easy to assume that they are the ones who need me.  They’re new here – foreigners from every corner of the globe learning the ways and words of a new land.

Me? I’m the ‘native’, able to translate the words and explain the customs.  I’ve spent years studying how to teach English as a second language and even get paid to pass along my knowledge. I know the nooks and crannies of this crazy language and play the role of a seasoned tour guide helping my students navigate the complex streets of grammar and spelling and pronunciation.

But don’t let that fool you.

Their resilience, fortitude, humor, and kindness are teaching me just as much as I’m teaching them – probably more.


Click here to read the rest of my guestpost today about the gifts of working with adult immigrants on Rachel Pieh Jones’ site, Djbouti Jones.

Liked this post? Don’t miss this post on immigration:

Dear ‘Merica: A Lament