Favor the new oppressed

Favor the new oppressed

A Quaker philosopher at the Earlham School of Religion instilled in me a principle which has stayed with me throughout my life, and which ceaselessly inspires my thinking about world and individual events. He taught: “Always favor the oppressed, and if the oppressed become freed from oppression and become the oppressors, favor the new oppressed.”

Emily Dickinson: Spiritual-but-not-religious ahead of her time

Emily Dickinson: Spiritual-but-not-religious ahead of her time

Those of us who have tried to give our all to Christ and to Christ’s church face a conundrum as to how we should encounter our brothers and sisters (and our children and grandchildren) who are spiritual but not religious. Let us be like the parents of Emily Dickinson, who affirmed her, embraced her, and welcomed her at the table.

Stewards of the vulnerable

Stewards of the vulnerable

When will Christians stop believing the lie that we are self-sufficient? When will we understand that collective responsibility for creation, for the vulnerable, is more Christ-like than personal freedom and choice? Will it be when the number of children dead from a disease, which could be controlled by a vaccine, starts rivalling the number of adults? The American evangelical church will find itself with blood on her hands unless we do better.

“And how are the children?”

“And how are the children?”

From churches to restaurants and government officials to family friends, I hear lots of people saying, “everyone is vaccinated, now we can do things in-person!” But when I bring up my asthmatic four-year-old or pandemic-born one-year-old, I’m met with blank stares or dismissive comments about them “not getting it as bad.” Do my kids not count as everyone? Does our immunocompromised friend not count as everyone? What about our neighbors who couldn’t access vaccines until very recently? Or those in communities where the vaccine is inaccessible? Just who is “everyone”?

From the pulpit: There is a balm in Gilead

From the pulpit: There is a balm in Gilead

There is a balm in our current coronavirus situation: cleansing, covering, community mitigation, and vaccination. Let me connect the scientific with the spiritual. Congregations prayed for a vaccine; that’s spiritual. God gave us a vaccine; that’s God working through science.

Soulfully revisiting the past

Soulfully revisiting the past

Woodstock looms large in the cultural memory of many Americans. However, the footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival (also known as “Black Woodstock”) largely remained forgotten in its film canisters until a recent documentary, “Summer of Soul,” directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots.

Waiting and lingering—A spirituality for the summer doldrums

Waiting and lingering—A spirituality for the summer doldrums

We do not have to submit to the de facto slowdown and spiritual stagnation of the doldrums of the summer months. There are things that we can do in our congregations during the seasons of Pentecost and Ordinary Time that can, in fact, strengthen our spiritual vitality and health. If the post-Pentecost season of Ordinary Time is a season set aside liturgically to give the church the opportunity to reflect on its mission and purpose, how can you cultivate a spirituality for the summer doldrums?

American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh: it’s legacy after 30 years

American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh: it’s legacy after 30 years

The American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh lawsuit that reached a settlement in 1991 resulting in NACARA provided a measure of justice that allowed hundreds of thousands of people like Luis Marcos to have their cases heard. Luis was granted asylum and later received full U.S. citizenship. His story is but one example of how American Baptists fight for justice and extend mercy, because of our faith.

Asian Lives Matter

Asian Lives Matter

The dominant powers in this country have set the gameboard where different communities are pitted against one another with myths that we tell of “the other.” Contrary to the model minority myth, many Asian Americans suffer from the same racist system that hurts all communities of color. Following the Atlanta massacre, I saw a God-given opportunity to build solidarity as so many allies, especially from the Black community, raised their voices in support.

If it’s easy, is it cheating?

If it’s easy, is it cheating?

Remember: if it’s fun, that doesn’t mean it’s not work. It could be that’s exactly the place you are called to contribute right now. Could you do more of what is fun and easy and less of what is hard and a struggle? It’s not cheating to exercise your greatest gifts.

The color of flesh

The color of flesh

I return again and again to the power of ever-so-brief children’s sermons. They cannot eradicate generations of racism, hatred, and narrow-mindedness, but inch by inch they can influence attitudes and values for good.

“Thank you for your patience”

“Thank you for your patience”

The Church has been waiting for nearly two thousand years for God’s Kingdom to be fully realized. Where are we now? God never promises when we will see the kingdom, only that it will come soon and very soon and that we have work to do in the time between now and then.

School’s out for summer—Counting the cost

School’s out for summer—Counting the cost

School may be out for summer and given vaccinations and increased immunity, the pervasive need for virtual learning may decrease. However, the persistent gaps and inequities uncovered must be addressed. We have a collective responsibility which rests with all who care for and want to see the success of our children. May we be moved to get involved and advocate, lest we find that the cost of school being out is too great to bear.

Why Juneteenth?

Why Juneteenth?

Trauma’s impact is not restricted to the individual that endured the trauma, it affects those who perpetrate the trauma and the descendants of both. To heal from a traumatic experience involves dealing with not only the symptoms that are manifested because of the trauma, it involves reconciling with the source of the pain. This is not work that has been done concerning racism in America.

Children, the silent victims of the COVID-19 pandemic

Children, the silent victims of the COVID-19 pandemic

The church may become informed on resources for poor families, such as federal aids, and become a part of collaborations to create resources for immigrant families since they do not have access to federal aid. The church may also create informal networks among congregations and social agencies, and work with social services to stay in touch with children who have had to go into foster care.

Children, the silent victims of the COVID-19 pandemic

La niñez, víctima silente de la pandemia del COVID-19

Informándose sobre recursos para familias pobres: ayudas federales, etc. Siendo parte de colaboraciones para crear recursos para familias inmigrantes ya que estos no tienen acceso a ayudas federales. La iglesia puede crear redes informales entre congregaciones y agencias sociales. También podemos trabajar con servicios sociales para mantener contacto con niños que han tenido que ir a cuido de crianza.

Practicing resurrection

Practicing resurrection

I, and the Christian community of Minneapolis, cannot resurrect George Floyd, but we can do everything we can to create a community where BIPOC neighbors have lungs full of breath and where they live long, happy, fulfilling lives.

The critical importance of listening evaluatively

The critical importance of listening evaluatively

Listening evaluatively is the mark of a thinking mind. After the wars of disinformation which we experienced in the past half decade, we must rethink how we listen and how we think. I crave evaluative listening skills for my grandchildren, for my neighbors and friends, for all who sit in the pews, for all who vote, and for all who watch, read, or listen to the news. But I cannot wish it for another until I engage in it myself. So, may I practice what I preach, and may all of us desire to grow in our skills as people who think critically and listen evaluatively.

Can we talk about part-time clergy compensation?

Can we talk about part-time clergy compensation?

If part-time ministry supported by secondary (and sometimes tertiary) employment is truly “the wave of the future,” we desperately need to face the elephant in the room. We need to have honest, straightforward, and faithful conversations about clergy compensation and how the church can lead in economic justice.

From cowardly to courageous, from frightened to fearless, from denying to defending Jesus—Embracing the power and purpose of Pentecost

From cowardly to courageous, from frightened to fearless, from denying to defending Jesus—Embracing the power and purpose of Pentecost

The best way to think about Pentecost is to consider that without that event the church would have no power. Pentecost is the day when churches all over the world pause to remember the moment in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit swept into the upper room where the disciples of Jesus were still in hiding, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus. Up to that point, those men barely ventured outdoors for fear that what had happened to Jesus might also happen to them. Up to that point, there was no preaching going on and no healings occurring in the name of Jesus. There was just a group of frightened people not knowing what to do next. Christ may well have been risen, but before the Day of Pentecost “the church had no power!”

Pentecost is here!

Pentecost is here!

So this day, we hope to remember the day of Pentecost, as the Spirit of God breathed life into the Church, and remember that we are not at the end of that holy fire, as if we are the dying embers at day’s end. Instead, we dare to think of ourselves as the continuation of that story, with the desire to live our lives together as a spiritual community, responsive to the Spirit kindling within us, prompting us, pushing us, beckoning us to reach beyond our boundaries, beyond these four walls, and out into the world.

Devotion and honor, not violence

Devotion and honor, not violence

How shall we, as people of God, demonstrate love for one another in our neighborhoods and overseas? How shall we choose to be devoted to and honor one another while we remain God’s ambassadors of mercy, hope, and love while we serve? I humbly offer that Isaiah 61 invites us all to be a greater witness of God’s love as a resurrected people breathing for truth, mercy, and love. May our individual and collective breath last for more than 9 minutes.

Four things to admire about the singer Tony Bennett

Four things to admire about the singer Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett is a wonder. I’m astonished at the way he kept performing into his 90s. Recently his family made public the fact he has Alzheimer’s. Despite his diagnosis, he’s collaborated with Lady Gaga on a second album expected out soon. In a wonderful story in the AARP magazine, I was reminded of four things I admire about Tony Bennett, in addition to his music.

Veterinarians and mental health awareness—helping the helpers

Veterinarians and mental health awareness—helping the helpers

Perhaps, beginning this month, we can reexamine just how it is that we might play a role that could contribute to the rising incidence of suicide among veterinary professionals, and give them our best attention and efforts when we take our pets into see them. Our veterinarians are usually giving us their best, and reciprocation is a good start to helping them, ourselves, and our animal relatives live in an abundant way.

Mental illness and the Black church

Mental illness and the Black church

The Black church struggles with the stigma of mental illness. Due to past and present experiences with institutionalized racism in America, Black church leadership and their members have been apprehensive to collaborate with mental health agencies. However, the Black church is positioned to be a pivotal partner in supporting mental wellness in the African American community.

Remembering a special mom on Mother’s Day

Remembering a special mom on Mother’s Day

My mother was the one person that I believed had not given up on me. She was the epitome of kindness and loyalty, and her gifts were heartfelt, genuine, and long-lasting. Mothers who actively demonstrate how to love others and pass that along to us–well, they are the moms for whom Mother’s Day was created, after all.

Loving your neighbor as yourself

Loving your neighbor as yourself

While we may be able to legislate reform, mandate equitable policies, and reframe policing, this will still leave much work to do. The model of change that helps me to continue to embrace hope in a sea of darkness is the model of love. The concept of loving one’s neighbor as oneself is where not only reform happens, but transformation occurs.

Burma crisis—A rough road to democracy and freedom

Burma crisis—A rough road to democracy and freedom

The Tatmadaw (Myanmar military), long scorned for its disregard for human rights, is pressing its full might against the restoration of democracy in Burma. The threat to the people of Myanmar has spurred Baptists from across the U.S. and parts of Myanmar toward a common message: we all desire peace for the people of Myanmar. We lift the people of Burma and the diaspora communities in prayer. We pray democracy and freedom shall prevail.

Living well in continual overwhelm

Living well in continual overwhelm

Living well in continual overwhelm is possible through intentional, creative adaptiveness. We have agonized, lost, and mourned. And we have pondered, found, and moved on with new tools and techniques forged by ingenuity and necessity. Our response to complex, unrelenting challenge can be as much transformative adventure, as it can be daunting obligation. The choice is ours.

Embracing equality and justice: Opposing Christian nationalism

Embracing equality and justice: Opposing Christian nationalism

The belief in the dignity of every individual, be they Democrat or Republican, Palestinian or Israeli, is essential if we are going to be advocates of equality and agents of justice. This is my prayer: that our engagement in political action embraces the principles of equality and justice for all people—from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Middle East. Christian witness is at stake. Might all who follow Jesus commit to denouncing Christian Nationalism and offering a more compelling witness for the sake of our faith, our country, and the world.

The way of belief—seeing God at work in the midst of things, doing something that surpasses all expectations

The way of belief—seeing God at work in the midst of things, doing something that surpasses all expectations

Father Raymond Brown suggests that the deepest belief, the one that embraces with joy the glory of Christ’s resurrection, is the one that understands what is happening beyond the most visible signs. It is one thing to see the empty tomb. It is quite another to see God at work in the midst of things, doing something that surpasses all expectations.

‘Kumbayah’ is no joking matter

‘Kumbayah’ is no joking matter

Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash ‘Kumbayah’ is no joking matter Rev. Donald Ng April 21, 2021 I sang “Kumbayah” for the first time sitting around a campfire at Pond Homestead Baptist Camp in Wrentham, Massachusetts. It was memorable because the quietness of the night...
This Earth Day, remembering the fragile balance between us and our home

This Earth Day, remembering the fragile balance between us and our home

We face a choice of how we will live with each other and on this planet. We can bully all of the other birds out of the feeder with greed and malice, take the seeds of justice and hope for ourselves, pollute the resources that were meant for everyone, and go down together. Or we can remember who and whose we are. We can remember the fragile balance between us and our home. We can remember that we are stewards of our planet and stewards of each other’s well-being.

Healings of Jesus of Nazareth

Healings of Jesus of Nazareth

The Lord’s message arrived strong to the ancient cities of Nazareth, Capharnaum, and Jerusalem; it interrupted as an agent of kindness, mercy, and transformation, that was lived not just in physical health, but also in emotional, spiritual, familiar, social, economic, and political well-being.

Healings of Jesus of Nazareth

Las sanidades de Jesús de Nazaret

El mensaje del Señor llegaba con fuerza a las antiguas ciudades de la Nazaret, Capernaúm y Jerusalén; irrumpía como un agente de bondad, misericordia y transformación, que se vivía no solo en la salud física sino en el bienestar emocional, espiritual, familiar, social, económico y político.

The myth of the great pastor: Rightsizing pastoral expectations in the pandemic

The myth of the great pastor: Rightsizing pastoral expectations in the pandemic

Pastors are called to be visionary; they are asked to keep order and use tried and true formats and materials. They are called to innovate, and they are required to keep the cherished traditions of any individual church alive. They are called to take the long view; and they need to meet the day to day needs of congregants. Can one person do it all? Can that one person do it all well?

Mental health ministry—Beginning with worship

Mental health ministry—Beginning with worship

When liturgy and worship become the work of the people, space for the sacred stories of those living with mental health conditions begin to have space in the collective experience. Isolation can break down and connection can be formed as people begin to understand the deep humanity of their neighbor in the pew. Remember that worship is a collective act, and the collective is only truly inclusive when all can participate in a meaningful way in the act of worship.

Can you offer grace to yourself?

Can you offer grace to yourself?

Moving from self-judgment to self-compassion is a long, slow process. It’s a deeply spiritual process. It begins with simply noticing the judgmental thoughts. Frequently they are so automatic you don’t even know you are having them. A lifetime of self-judgment doesn’t disappear in an instant. In times of high anxiety (like now) it’s easy to go backward.

Recognizing, and practicing, the things that make for peace

Recognizing, and practicing, the things that make for peace

The way of peace is controversial. To favor peace in practice goes against the culture, and the consequences are negative. It was for Jesus. He mentioned the good news of the gospel in his hometown community of faith, and they were filled with rage and ran him out of town (Luke 4:28-29). Likewise, those who stand against war might find themselves run out by their communities of faith.

Discovering hope in a pandemic world

Discovering hope in a pandemic world

Finding and accessing hope in a pandemic world comes from faith in God that God is not done with our crisis. Who are we to pronounce judgment that God is finished with us, our problems, or our world?

This Holy Week, let us “go in peace”

This Holy Week, let us “go in peace”

Sam Baker’s brief, beautiful song has kept me going through these strange, otherworldly times of death from a virus on a scale not seen in over a century, of lives and livelihoods disrupted, of businesses, school buildings, churches and other houses of worship closed.

The hope that Holy Week brings

The hope that Holy Week brings

This particular Holy Week is crying out for God’s people to recognize the vitality that has always been there. Is it possible that we have never needed Holy Week more? People everywhere are yearning for a resurrection.

Please go around

Please go around

We are all tired of Covid-19, but evidently it isn’t tired of us. Therefore, we set the policies that feel right to us and respect when others do the same. As much as we care about making people happy, and want to make things easier for them, right now is a time we ask that they cross the river, stay on the train, and do whatever it takes to honor our boundaries. We do so in part because the lives we have, as created beings, aren’t a privilege but a gift we’ve been invited to tend with loving care.

Standing in solidarity with the Asian American community

Standing in solidarity with the Asian American community

When you see hate, combat it with love to bring justice. If you hear cries of violence, rise in solidarity to support movement into liberation. Do not be so concerned with your personal problems of the day that you forget to also extend care to your neighbor. Get to know your neighbors to strengthen community connection, harmony, and safety. Join with others to dismantle stereotypes, myths or misconceptions that prevent us from seeing each other’s humanity.

Preach like a girl

Preach like a girl

Given the broken nature of our world today, I say we need all the help we can get—Supreme Court Justices, astronauts, preachers, and all.

The inward journey

The inward journey

Lent is a season that calls Christians to reflect and look deeper within. We are summoned in this season to look into the mirrors of our souls. There is danger and deliverance in looking inward.

Hitting the pandemic wall, and how to move forward

Hitting the pandemic wall, and how to move forward

In times like these, we can feel adrift. We can feel that we are being pushed and pulled in all directions. We can feel like the wind will knock us down and off our feet if it hasn’t already. We can lose our sense of grounding—of what we believe, what we stand for, what matters most to us.

Are you tired of talking about the pandemic?

Are you tired of talking about the pandemic?

I’m tired of talking about the pandemic. I know there’s still so much to consider, decisions to make, adaptations to develop, attention to pay to matters like getting the vaccine. However, I feel like I’m having the same conversations over and over. Here are a few questions to generate some different conversations now. Some of these will still be about the pandemic, but it is possible to shift into talking about something richer and deeper in relation to it.

One year and counting—Christian Citizen reflections on the coronavirus pandemic

One year and counting—Christian Citizen reflections on the coronavirus pandemic

On March 4, 2020 we published the first of many articles in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Today, we mark the occasion with this series of excerpts from articles published over the past year. They are a reminder of trials and tribulations experienced and challenges that remain. As with all that we publish, we hope these excerpts will inspire, encourage, and challenge our readers to bring a greater measure of justice, mercy, and faith into our communities and world.

Deb and Deborah: extraordinary women for the past and present

Deb and Deborah: extraordinary women for the past and present

Women’s History Month for 2021 happily appears to be part of what is becoming the year of the woman here in the United States. Women have, of course, historically served in leadership roles. It is our appreciation of that fact that often seems absent. Deb Haaland has demonstrated effectiveness as a tribal leader, and America is finally gaining some ground with respect to recognizing Native American women.

Across denominations, where is God when it comes to mental illness?

Across denominations, where is God when it comes to mental illness?

From the United Church of Christ to the Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America to the Church of the Brethren, pastors across denominations are encountering people in acute mental health crisis. Despite the sustained stigma surrounding mental health in Christian circles, many people still turn to their local pastor before seeking out care from a mental health provider or physician. This undergirds the importance of clergy and church communities becoming better equipped to be welcoming and affirming spaces for those with mental health conditions.

Sackcloth and ash in a world burning to the ground

Sackcloth and ash in a world burning to the ground

For Christians in America, this particular Ash Wednesday might advance one of the most introspective Lenten seasons in memory. The turmoil of recent months—the pandemic, presidential impeachment, the violent expression of white supremacy—calls for a reconciliation with God that is apt to bring many into a season of meditation to which they haven’t been accustomed.

A season to live: Ash Wednesday one year into the coronavirus pandemic

A season to live: Ash Wednesday one year into the coronavirus pandemic

For Ash Wednesday 2021, when even gathering for in-person worship is a matter of caution and clergy have been debating if, let alone how, one might safely impose ashes, could we make space in such rituals to feel the heaviness of a year now past in our Lenten disciplines and reflection? If we keep our personal piety disconnected from our global and national problems, are we truly learning the ways of mourning and penitence?

Hang in there, don’t walk away

Hang in there, don’t walk away

We are called to build a more just, fair, equitable, inclusive, and hopeful society. In these troubled times, we cannot—must not—seek to go back to “normal.” Our fundamental task is to re-imagine and recreate our lives, communities, and this nation.

Better than “they” think we are

Better than “they” think we are

I am cautiously hopeful that representative, principled, leadership will rise up in this nation – that we will indeed build back better for everyone through a more equitable and unifying agenda more than we ever have before. Those of us who are Jesus followers have a role to play in leading in a more excellent way of love, and nurturing others to do the same.

Lent 2021 is the perfect time to relearn confession, penance, and ‘costly grace’

Lent 2021 is the perfect time to relearn confession, penance, and ‘costly grace’

Lent comes around every year in the Christian calendar as a time of reflection, self-denial, and confession. It has traditionally been a time of some kind of fasting or abstaining from certain things. If there’s ever a year to rediscover Isaiah’s words about ‘the fast God has chosen,’ it’s this year: “…to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isa. 58:6 NIV). In particular, maybe this Lenten season is the time to get serious about loosening our chains of racism.

The bridge of love to healing: “Bridgerton” and our current national moment

The bridge of love to healing: “Bridgerton” and our current national moment

Like the Duke and Duchess of Hastings in the Netflix series “Bridgerton,” we have forgotten how to love. We have forgotten the joy of being together and hearing one another’s thoughts and perspectives. However, we cannot blame the pandemic on our separation. We have allowed social media to be the divider, allowing it to separate us into polarized camps. But if we could remember, we could heal. It is a choice, but it is one we need to make.

Seven trends to watch in 2021

Seven trends to watch in 2021

Now that we’re well into 2021, we’ve discovered that all the problems of 2020 didn’t just magically go away, alas. We can expect 2021 to maintain continuity with 2020, and in fact, carry forward the trends that have led us to where we are today.

The letter that liberates

The letter that liberates

In his Letter, King saw with clarity from a jail cell what many in Birmingham could not or would not perceive in the social order’s status quo predicated on segregation and inequality. I prayerfully hope that we will experience indictment anew from King’s Letter as a people gathering to celebrate King’s witness just weeks after early January’s national turmoil. The myopic habits to exclude and occlude others in society are still strong in the American psyche and certainly proved pernicious in the last few years—and devastatingly so in recent weeks.

Beyond American Christianity: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the love ethic of Jesus

Beyond American Christianity: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the love ethic of Jesus

King aptly grasped that the love Jesus displayed and taught was not reflected in American Christianity. American Christianity sought a gospel that suited itself, not a gospel that drew individuals closer to their Creator. King had moved beyond American Christianity, comprehending a belief that united humanity. As we reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, may we hear the messenger that spoke beyond American Christianity and challenged us. May the message of loving one’s neighbor challenge us to live lives that reflect the message Jesus proclaimed. May we find ourselves being the good Samaritan on the Jericho road, in Jesus’ parable, regardless of the stranger’s ethnicity, gender or age. May we reflect on the love ethic taught by Jesus and preached by King. May this message empower us to resist hate and recognize that we are all connected in the tapestry of life.

Lead like Martin? Yes and no

Lead like Martin? Yes and no

We can learn much from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership when considering it in total: being guided by a foundation of beliefs; leveraging educational and formational experiences that help us connect with others; and employing courage to stay the course. However, we must additionally extend ourselves beyond King’s leadership by exercising a humility that seeks the ideas of those without power and amplifies the voices of those who have been marginalized.

The measure of a person

The measure of a person

What is the measure of a human being in today’s daunting world? We must return to the core of our being, the depths of our kindness, in order to answer that key question for ourselves, and Dr. King continues to show us the way through his writings and his spirit.

New Year, new you

New Year, new you

As the calendar turns and an extraordinary 2020 concludes, advertisers for gyms and weight loss programs bombard us with some version of, “A New Year, a new you!” The fitness industry’s perennial pursuit of profit based on our short-lived desires for self-improvement is worryingly ingrained into the lifecycle of the American psyche. However, the annual call to honest self-examination is an important challenge that resonates. Nobody needs honest reflection and a “New Year, new you” campaign more than the American church after its response to 2020.