Jesus Is King and I'm So Scared

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

InterVarsity, Gay Marriage & Something Else

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Franklin Graham Doesn't See Me, But Jesus Does

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

Blameless,

You call them holy. 

They've been forgiven 

You call them righteous 

they are Yours. 

They're spotless 

You call them worthy 

They are Your children

You call them chosen 

They're yours. 

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

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

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

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

 "I will boldly come

running straight to the one 

singing over me your songs of salvation

No one can take this from me

I am a child that you named free. 

Nothing will separate us I'm held by you. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like Hugging Ice: Reflections on Grief & Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Will You Respond to Omran?

Photo by MarkRubens/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by MarkRubens/iStock / Getty Images

We are blissfully disconnected, intentionally ignorant, not intending to devalue, degrade, and dismiss the suffering and murder of innocent people but that's precisely what we do each day.  We are upstream from our prejudice and selfishness so we have no idea the impact that our action or inaction against the injustices we commit or don't stop others from doing. That is until a photo like the one of Omran Daqneesh covered in blood and dust or before him, Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach invades our news feeds.

And we are forced to stop - some of us anyway - and contemplate just what the hell are we doing?

When I looked at the photo of that little boy in Syria I wasn't sad, I am angry. I am pissed that the United States of America and the vast majority of its citizens prioritize economic interests over the safety and care of the most vulnerable here and abroad. Selfish ambition and economic interest blinds us to the reality that some of our best and brightest scientists, programmers and businessmen are designing weapons to drop bombs on wedding parties because a "target" was supposedly in attendance and an algorithm that calculates collateral damage deemed this a good hit. Some of our greatest communicators are crafting language about how to spin stories of torture, violence, and extortion to narratives that move us "forward". Newsflash, saying enhanced interrogation tactics was not an accident and neither was the systematic torture of innocent men and women for NO actionable intelligence.  Employees at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, IBM and other corporations compete for lucrative military contracts coming up with creative ways to kill people in the name of protecting our freedom. The freedom to do what I ask?

Seriously, the freedom to do what? The freedom to pretend like Saudi Arabia isn't using US weapons to destroy the lives of women and children in Yemen. The freedom to look away as we fight a proxy war with Russia in Syria. The freedom to go to the mall, eat Thai Food, and Netflix and chill while 22 veterans commit suicide EVERY DAY because of the atrocities they witnessed while protecting "us" from "them".

I am sickened by our sadness because it will last less than 180 seconds because we need to move on to the next segment on CNN or another photo on Instagram.  We have built mighty altars to our selfishness and every day we bow down in worship; and every day we make sure these altars of radical self interest are protected. Our rhetoric is as elaborate as our weapons systems.

"We are not the world's police."
"We have enough problems here at home."
"It's not like we can help...everyone.

No, we are not the world's police but we certainly could serve and protect more than we manipulate and coerce.

Yes, we do have problems at home but the poorest white communities in Appalachia and the most depressed black and brown neighborhoods in our urban centers have abundant resources compared to Aleppo. It would not kill us to share.

And no, we can't help everyone but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to help anyone. Lord have mercy. How easily we give up when it comes to helping others but how resourceful we can be when it comes to helping ourselves!

Where oh God is Your Church in America? We are too busy worshipping like everyone else because instead of crying for justice we cozy up to political power and fall in line to pursue my best life now and Black Friday deals.

In Matthew 25 we see that God holds us responsible not just for what we do but for what we don't do. And just like God sees every missile fired from a flying death machine we call a "drone", hears every order to kill someone whom we deem to be a "terrorist" he sees we who stand by and do nothing except go about life as usual. I am sick to my stomach and bile rises in my throat at the horrific destruction that our country is a part of through the creation of weapons, their subsequent sale, our direct action and inaction that leads to the death and displacement of millions - literally millions of people we will never see or meet because we refuse to admit them as refugees and our media will not put them on our TV's.

If there were tables I could find, like Jesus I would flip them to protect my Father's House but sadly, I've come to realize this house is not His. So I'm left ranting at 230am longing for a people willing to stand on the power of Jesus and stand up to the greedy, "powerful" men and women who profit off of war and in world.

If you are tired too, email me at nycurbanproject@gmail.com. There is work to do and we must be about Our Father's business.

White Supremacy & My Black and Asian Daughter

I made peace with the fact that in the United States I could be in the "wrong" at the "wrong" time and be shot and killed by police because a man or woman who feels threatened by my presence and calls 9-1-1. I can be murdered by a concerned citizen standing his or her ground as I walk through "their" neighborhood. I could be asking for help because our car broke down and be taken from this world if I knock on the wrong front door. I could be arrested because I "fit the description" and die in the police van or in the cell and no one would be held accountable. On one hand I will seek justice and love mercy and on the other accept that some people and some systems will not change this side of Glory. 

But I certainly have not accepted that for my Black, Chinese and Korean American daughter - Maia Pan Bang Jie Walton. 

Maia's name is rooted in thousands of years of history. Pan is her family name, Bang is her generational name, and Jie is the name chosen by her grandmother. Walton holds the complicated history of my people in this country - slaves and slave owners in Virginia. The name most will call her is Hebrew for water signifying notably in the Bible a deep cleansing and replenishment. And looking at the life of Jesus, the waters of baptism signify new life itself. How beautiful it would be if those who saw her knew the story of how faithful God was through the story He wove from South Korea, Southern China, and Southern Virginia to make her life possible! 

Sadly, none of this will be perceived at first glance. 

Instead, a nurse enters our hospital room not even 24 hours after she is born and says "your daughter has such a nice complexion". 

Another worker enters later, "she has such beautiful skin." 

I've given up my privilege of moving on and it's making me painfully uncomfortable. Staying #woke makes my bones tired.

Those two women didn't know that on the phone I was looking up from I had just seen that Charles Kinsey was shot by North Miami Police while laying on the ground with his hands in the air.

On the ground. 
Hands in the air. 
Explaining that he was a behavioral therapist. 
And he is still shot. 

He is Black like me. He is educated like me. 
And my daughter is Black like me too, but her skin could be praised by many simply because of its lightness. Would they have said that if she was dark like me? 

These moments that are supposed to be so joyful and exciting, is invaded by the brokenness of the history that we can't get past because we as a society won't deal with it. And this is the society that my daughter is a part of. The opportunities for marginalization of this woman of color are paralyzing.

Will my daughter be ashamed for her friends to meet me? Will her friends treat her differently after they find out her dad is black because she can "pass"? 

Note: (If you don't know what "passing" is, please click here

Please don't zone out or stop reading or declare this is too long, too sad, too honest, too whatever by going on to the next thing in your newsfeed. 

Please don't tell me to move on. 
Don't tell me to get over it. 
Don't tell me it will get better. 
Don't tell me that she'll love me because I'm her Dad, her Baba. And that you just love me too.

I need you to understand, or at least attempt to see the reality that I live and this little one will be privy to. I need you to commit to actively fight racism and prejudice based on skin color. I need you to keep learning, to speak up, and to show up. 

The issue remains that every day her value could be propped up on the false and destructive notion that lighter skinned people are more valuable, deserve better treatment and bear no burden of dangerousness. She will be given the benefit of the doubt by a potential date or the Deputy and that is painful and disgusting. The issue remains that if we have another child and his or her skin is darker, they will have completely different experiences in this country. They will be perceived and treated differently by teachers, classmates, police officers, security guards, relatives and in-laws. As I mentioned in "Racism is Ruining My Marriage", the level to which myself and other people of color have internalized our devaluation is staggering. And to try and tear down our culture's worship and protection of whiteness is exhausting - so no wonder folks don't even try.

Jesus help me. Jesus help my wife. Jesus help my daughter. 

I briefly shared these thoughts with two white male friends of mine. One said in short, "I can't imagine how hard those things must be but do your best to choose joy." And he is right! These circumstances have not changed the love of God, His love for me and for Maia. These trials do not change the reality that we just had a healthy, Psalm 139, beautiful type of baby. Hallelujah and amen! 

The other said, "I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on this". So I wrote this piece. And I'm sure we will talk about it. 

And that is why we have the Body of Christ. I am not alone. My daughter will not be alone because her Mom and friends like this are willing to listen, learn and fight for her. Priscilla knows that our daughter is Black and Asian and the social implications of that ethnic identity. She is more than aware of the model minority myth, is well-versed in deconstructing narratives that ensure white supremacy is kept in place, and knows the children's books and the bible stories at every level to ensure Maia has the knowledge and the theology to flourish as a Black, Chinese, Korean woman in this world of ignorance and intolerance. We have white friends and family willing to own the collective history of their people and our country and press into racial justice and reconciliation. There is a growing community of people especially in the Asian Diaspora willing to wade into the choppy river of justice work because Jesus showed us that we can walk on water if we keep focused on Him. 

And that is the type of miracle we will need to bring justice for the Native people who had this land taken from them, the immigrants who call it home, the slaves that built its wealth but don't share in it, and even the very people who started it all death and destruction in the first place. More pointedly, that's the type of miracle I need for my daughter to know and feel she's loved. Because we are all made in the image of God to flourish, work, rule and create including this little wonder sleeping soundly as I write this post.

You Should Fundraise Your Salary

"I don't wanna fundraise."

When I think to myself how we at InterVarsity and other ministries/non-profits need more full-time staff members I am most often met with phrases like this: 

"I hate asking people for money"

"I don't want to fundraise"

"My parents didn't work hard for me to beg for money".

My response is disappointment. Not just because they won't be prayerful about joining us but because they have bought into the lies about money and control and the culture over them both. Sadly, they may never experience intimacy with God as Provider and the radical blessing of His people in a prayerful and giving community.

I am not saying we should all fundraise because I like it. I am not saying we should all fundraise because it's comfortable. I'm saying that we should all fundraise at least for a season of our lives because it makes us better people. It is beautifully difficult to sit across from someone and invite them to be an intimate partner in your life. And whether the answer is "yes" or "no" - there is blessing for both parties.

I am not saying that people who don't raise funds can't see God as Provider.  I am saying it is immensely easier when the line is explicit. Jesus did not say to the disciples, "go out with enough money and clothes for the whole trip and if people give to you, then you get to save what you had already!"

When we rely on God and others for what we need, even if only for a short time it redefines what's possible. When a college graduate (or anyone for that matter) can raise their own paycheck to do the thing that God is calling them to do it unlearns for us the silent gospel that money is god and we learn that God is God - especially over money. 

Everyone should experience being sent out with a vision from God and watch God be God through His provision and His people.  The Gospel of Jesus is radical dependence on God and interdependence on His blessed community. The gospel of America is reliance on yourself and the use of the community to gain independence. Followers of Jesus are called to be much more than cogs in a meritocracy, capitalist framework or figures in an elaborately veiled selfishness that drives most of us to get up every morning and go to "work".

Contrary to how I used to feel working in fast food, construction, or real estate, now I look at a spreadsheet every month and see the list of prayerful friends who give to the life of delightful and difficult ministry that my wife, daughter and I have in NYC. Self-reliance, independence and "I Got This" are rung out of my daily life because my daily bread comes from people like you who are reading this piece. Every day, people pray for me, my wife and newborn child. Every day, I sit before God grateful that we have money to eat great food, pay our bills and be generous to others because I can't and don't say "God owns everything" and then work really hard to provide for myself.  I know He is the source of very good gift because I've experienced it for almost 10 years.

When I look at my peers, I have the longest tenure in my place of work, most consistent benefits, and great relationships with my colleagues and partners.  When we don't ask for money for our salaries, benefits, travel and meal expenses, we get to walk in the illusion that somehow we earned and deserve the money that comes via commission, salary, bonus or dividend. The lie is, "Because of my education, networking, great resume, that little joke I made or the subtle strength of my handshake - I did it! I got this job. I earned this raise. I deserve this because of all the sacrifices I made. Look at ME now!"

Over time the lie becomes more elaborate.
"The harder I work, the more I should earn. Look at those around me not working as hard as I am. Jimmy's only been working for a year and he's already making what I make. I have to study later, go back to grad school, spend extra time with the higher ups. That will get me to the "C" suite."

And the lie begins to spill over into how we see others because of how we see ourselves:

"Those people who don't earn as much as me are actually worth less than me.  If they worked hard, they would have what I have. There are makers and there are takers and I am definitely a maker. Some people make, and I'm glad I did." 

That is a tragic way to live. I learned two deep lessons about myself through fundraising that I would not have grasped otherwise:

  •  my self-worth is not determined by the size of my paycheck.
  •  the value of my work is not contingent on what I am paid to do it.

If we learn and apply those two things the social implications can be powerful.  I am not comparing my value to my coworkers'. I am not jockeying for position or promotion. There is little "politicking" because we are all on and in mission together to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves in a sustainable way.

More broadly, because I don't favor people with higher salaries, nicer cars, and summer homes I will not devalue the unemployed, the factory or fast food worker nor do I idolize the banker or business owner. I see them as people because I see myself apart from my accolades as one valued and loved by God and community.  And as long as I am on the perfomance treadmill with my value and dignity determined by a quarterly report and annual reviews I am missing out on the abundance God has to offer and calling the garbage of a meal I'm eating gourmet lifestyle that everyone should ascribe to.

In short, to determine our vocational opportunities based on if and how much we will be paid for it is slavery because money has mastered us.  But we won't know that we're in chains until we step out of the prison that is this "American Dream". There are many Mother Teresa's sitting in cubicles in Manhattan because they are scared of not having enough. There are many MLK's sleep deprived in Silicon Valley because they are fearful of what family and friends may think of them if they left the job everybody wants. There are powerful leaders applying to grad school right now because they're not brave enough to do that thing they would do if only there was money to do it. Yet, because we don't have the courage to ask for the resources and help to get there, we go to idealist.com and apply for more jobs that supposedly give us control and security through the salaries yet to be negotiated.  The world would be a much richer place if none of us defined the value of ourselves and our callings by dollars, pounds, or yen.

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New Position with InterVarsity

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Thank you so much for your prayers and support for NYCUP and especially for Priscilla and I and of course #BabyWalton.

On July 1, I accepted an offer to be an Area Director-Focus with InterVarsity. On the surface, things may look the same for a little while yet there will be a significant amount of work done to ensure stability and sustainability of NYCUP. I will be focusing on three things from August 2016-January 2017 or until we reach our goal. 

  • Financial Stability
    • Reach $10,000/month in funding so that we're able to pursue year-round programming. To date, we are at $7000/month. 
    • If you would like to give for the first time or increase your giving, please click here
  • Campus Integration
    • integrate Feed 500, Teach Us How to Pray, the LoGOFF Movement, Bible studies and other NYCUP resources into chapters in NY/NJ - specifically our 400+ small groups.
    • Further refine the above resources to integrate into campuses attending RecWeek (Spring Break) and our three Summer Programs: Avodah, Summer Immersion, Mont Lawn Camp.
    • Formation of LoGOFF Covenant Communities to aid in the development and implementation of aforementioned resources and programs. 
  • Staff Development Pipeline
    • Work with the Regional Leadership Team and Area Leadership Team to develop a staff recruitment and retention structure for NYCUP's programs. 

Not counting our Fall or Spring Conferences, our goal is to impact 1000 participants through NYCUP's programming during a potential LoGOFF Weekend in November, Spring Break and our Summer Programs in 2017. 

Goals for Impact

By God's grace, in 2017-2018 we will have the resources and structure to fully implement a year-round program that engages 2500 participants. In 2011, we served over 2000 students and participants in ministry experiences year-round. I'm excited for this new season to meet and surpass that impact! 

SAVE THE DATE | NYCUP Reunion July 4, 2018!

In July 2018, it will be my 10th year on staff w/ InterVarsity! And, more importantly, NYCUP will be 25 years old. We hope to organize a celebration of God's faithfulness over the last 2 decades! 

Thank you again for your prayers and partnership! If you have any questions or concerns, please email nycurbanproject@gmail.com.

Meet the NYCUP Summer Interns!

I am deeply grateful for the privilege to know the 6 women of God serving NYC Relief, Nomi Network and Restore NYC this summer. They are committing 50 days to loving their neighbors and hearing from God.

Alison Lashower has roots in Westchester but grew up in South Carolina and goes to University of South Carolina. Anna Smith is a New Yorker! She graduated from Adelphi in May and is headed to Fordham U in the fall to focus on social work.  Brianna Copeland is a rising senior at James Madison University, grew up in Manassas, and is super skilled with a camera. Catherine Fowler calls upstate NY home and is in her last year at SUNY-Old Westbury looking to see Jesus move with power at NYCUP. Kaitlyn Levis is also from James Madison University, tidewater is home and I'm not so secretly hoping she heads up to NYC after graduation! Last but certainly not least, the budding lawyer in our midst is Taylor Maurer from the University of Delaware whose roots are outside Philadelphia. 

Taylor is our solo intern at Restore NYC this year and Nomi Network fields Anna Smith, Brianna Copeland, and Catherine Fowler. Alison Lashower and Kaitlyn Levis are serving alongside NYC Relief. 

Here they are in their own words: 

From Catherine, "My prayer going into this program was to become more emotionally available to people and to have more compassion for those who are marginalized and vulnerable to exploitation. I did not know what that would mean and what process God would take me through for that to become a reality. Click here to read the whole post! 

From Brianna, "Laurainne’s words really resonated with me. I remembered her words as I volunteered at the Nomi Network Gala on Wednesday. I remembered her words as we watched a scandal episode about how racial reconciliation is so necessary in this country. I remembered her words as I went to my first day of my internship.I remembered her words as I tried to attempt to figure out the subway and bus lines... meet Laurianne here

From Anna, "There are things that happen in this world which we do not understand, but God's light and grace are so much brighter than the darkness. I am bothered and burdened by the things that I hear and see and yet I have hope that God can restore and bring life to these things that otherwise would seem dead. I am getting better at "emotional volleyball"-hearing the difficult things around me and then remembering to give it back to God. It is hard to sum up the week I have had in a few words but one thing I can say without a fraction of a doubt is that God is faithful! I hope that you can say that too!"

From Allison"we got to pray for man named Carlos who was from Puerto Rico and suffering with several skin afflictions. Randomly, we ended up in church in Manhattan during the nightly prayer meeting. It was beautiful-but what came next was completely unexpected. Right after we left, we saw a man sitting on the steps of the church. His name was Tony and he was so awesome! He was filled with so much joy and shared several stories with us. We were able to share some food with him and pray for his knee and his friend's arm who came by. Before leaving, he offered to pray for us and recited the Serenity Prayer! Such an awesome encounter."

From Kaitlyn, "As the train came to the next stop, I saw that there was an older man sitting on the bench. The doors opened and the crowds at the doors switched cars. The man I saw had matted hair, dirty clothes on with a lot of holes, and a bag of his belongings. He was homeless. I realized that the smell was coming from him. When I noticed him sitting there, I was faced with a choice. I could get off the train and move to a car I would be more comfortable in or I could stay. I could run away or move closer. With hesitation, I moved closer. I asked the man if I could sit down next to him. He looked up at me, smiled, and said yes. As I sat down, I noticed that his white sneakers and jeans..." Read more here

From Taylor, "The most exciting part of the week, however, was my involvement in a crisis response situation with a new client. We needed to switch her to a new hotel for safety reasons, so my co-worker Gabrielle and I traveled across Manhattan to help her move her stuff, get checked in, and get something to eat. Although I was not expecting to meet a trafficking survivor so soon, I was grateful for the opportunity to assist her and speak with her. She was very spunky, very friendly, and very ready to move on from her old life. I am happy that we were able to relocate her safely, and I hope that I am lucky enough to meet more inspirational women like her."

It is a privilege of mine to do this work and I am grateful for your prayerful support. Please continue to pray for us as we serve and all of those we will meet. So, how can you be a part of this? Visit Let's Talk Avodah! 

To sign up for our newsletter, click here

To support our work financially, please click here!

If you have any questions or concerns, email nycurbanproject@gmail.com. 

How Yoon-Seo Met Jesus

Every person who follows Jesus has a story of how they met Him. It may be dramatic or mundane or stretched out over a period, but it's always transformative and we are never the same. I'm so grateful for Yoon-Seo sharing her story with us. Thank you for your giving and prayers that make this work possible. 

" I did not grow up in the church but I always had Christian friends around me. They were always joyful and confident in every situation. Looking them, I thought it would be great to become a Christian someday. Thanks to those Christian friends around me, I joined a prayer meeting and a bible study during my freshman year. I really liked going there because people there were really kind and I felt purified after praying and studying bible. Even though I did not have any personal relationship with God, I considered myself Christian for two years. Then I decided to come to Cornell as an exchange student. Unlike other students who are really excited to study abroad, I had a lot of worries before coming here. “When if I get lost?” “When if I could not make any friends?” “When if I get sick?” Because of these worries, I had bad dreams every day before coming here.

When I arrived in Ithaca, it was even worse. I felt completely alone. I knew no one in here and it was hard to talk to my family and friends because of the time difference. Furthermore, since everything in US was much more expensive than things in Korea, I felt guilty whenever I used money. However, I never told my mother about these negative feelings because I did not want her to worry about me. I just cried alone in a dark room in Ithaca. I needed someone to rely on. Then I got an email about InterVarsity's Asian American Chapter from Cindy. I really enjoyed going to AAIV because everyone was nice and I felt calm whenever I go there. I participated in all groups in AAIV such as the large group, the small group, and the village. However, I was really challenged by those meetings. I have never questioned about God before coming to AAIV.

My image of God was disrupted through discussions I had in those groups. I started doubting my faith and I could not consider myself as a Christian anymore. Then I heard about NYCUP in the large group. The biggest reason why I decided to go there was the scholarship. Since I had financial problems, I thought it would be a good way to spend my spring break without using much money. Also, I heard from some people that NYCUP changed their lives, so I went to NYCUP with excitements. However, it was more intense than I thought. I was really tired throughout whole process. The bible studies in the morning were boring especially because I could not fully understand the English. I did not want to feed homeless people because I thought they were dirty, full of anger, and drunk. I thought they became homeless because they did not do their best in their lives. However, when I approached them and had conversation with them, I realized that they were human, just like me.

I have never thought they could get married, do make up, or keep a dog. Furthermore, I have never imagined them believing God. Surprisingly, three homeless people who I talked to were Christians. They said they are thankful for God and they were praying for God to give them strength. How could homeless people be grateful to God even though they are in the worst situation? While having conversation with them, I thought maybe Jesus is alive. However, there were also some homeless people who discouraged me. I met one man in Chinatown and he was looking for some food in the trashcan. I introduced myself to him and gave a sandwich to him but he did not even look at me. I could not understand his behavior and I told this story to Jonathan. He said that the man is like me.

What? I am not homeless! I had no idea what he was talking about. Jonathan said, the foods in the trashcan are like the joy I am looking for in this world such as money, fame or friendship. However, Jesus is willing to give eternal joy to me and I am refusing it. It made me think a lot about myself. On the last day, I was super tired and just wanted to go home. The bible study was boring like other days and Jonathan told us to write our own Psalm. We had about five hours to write poems but at first, I did not know what to do. So I just wandered around the church for a while and I show Reyna writing her poem. I told her that I don’t know how to start and she said I can always ask Jonathan. So I talked to him. “Jonathan, I don’t know how to write my Psalm.”

He responded, “Did you read Psalm 88? What did you think about it?” “I think David is really angry at God.” “You can express your anger like David to God because he understands.”

So I sat down and started writing my poem. Since I did not expect to share my poem, I was really honest in my poem. I wrote all the angers I had to God throughout my life. Then the time to share the poems came. Many friends shared their poems but I did not raise my hand, and even though Jonathan asked me to share it, I said “No.” Then we heard a speech from one lady and the NYCUP was over. But I did not want it to end like that. I remembered praying in my small group that I would like to meet Jesus in NYCUP. I felt I would regret not sharing my poem in the NYCUP. So I went to Jonathan and said I want to share my poem to him, only him. But he shouted to everyone in the room that “Yoon Seo wants to share her poem!” I was embarrassed and said “No.” He said, “Why not?” “Because I feel unsafe to be vulnerable. I think they are going to judge me.”

“No," he said, "They will still love you even after you share your poem. I guarantee.”

“But…”

“Do you wanna try?” So I stood in front of friends but I could not read my poem because I was already crying. So I asked Jonathan to read my poem and he stood next to me and read it for me.

It was my first time to share all my struggles to people and also it was my first time to cry in front of other people. After sharing the poem, I could still feel their love me and some of them were crying for me. Jonathan said, “They are the ambassadors of Jesus. If you see them, it means you saw Jesus.” Then Jonathan asked me to repeat after his prayer. He spoke in English, and I repeated in Korean. I cried a lot when I said, “I have a father. He is the greatest king in heaven.”

After praying, we started a special prayer. Jonathan asked me to close my eyes and imagine myself back where I felt the most alone. It was a dark room.  Then he asked me, “Where is Jesus?” I said, “He is next to me.”

“What does he say to you?” “He says it’s okay to cry.”

“Anything else?” “He says don’t care about what other people are saying. And he says I love you.” “What do you want to say to him?” “I am sorry and I love you, too.” I was no longer alone and I felt my heart was full of love of our God. All my brothers and sisters hugged me and said “Happy birthday! You are born again in Jesus Christ.” And Jonathan said, “This is how it looks like when people come back to Jesus.”

Thank you for making ministry like this possible and please pray for Yoon-Seo and all those she will meet when she goes back to Korea. Hallelujah and amen! 

If you would like to learn more about how you can get involved in NYCUP, click here

Making NYCUP a Year-Round Program

InterVarsity's NYCUP exists to develop leaders with the character and capacity to change the world. Then, we commission them to do so. We do that through introducing them to God who created the world, Jesus who redeemed it, and Holy Spirit who fills us with love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, gentleness, and self-control to join Him in the renewal of all things. And in the coming year, we hope to take the to the next level! 

More than 300 students, staff and community members fed the homeless, collaborated to fight racism and educational inequity, prayed and listened to the stories of our immigrant brothers and sisters. RecWeek is short for Reconciliation Week because God is making things right and calling us to do the same around the corner and around the world.

NYCUP Summer is almost here and our 3 programs will be in full force. NYCUP Students will be ministering alongside the staff at the Bowery Mission's Mont Lawn Camp to at-risk youth for 10 weeks. Six women of God will live in community and dive deep into hearing from God and loving our marginalized neighbors with NYC Relief, Nomi Network and Restore NYC. And, we will welcome hundreds to Calvary Baptist Church for our Let's Talk Avodah, vocational leadership program where over 6 weeks we welcome speakers and leaders to share about following Jesus in the workplace. How to Sabbath, fight anxiety, set boundaries, and build healthy relationships are just a few of the topics! 

These programs, we hope will catapult us into a new season in September where we launch weekly programming where university students and communities around them can hear from God and respond together! Leaders from around the city will meet with those seeking to grow in faith and respond in action to plant and grow witnessing communities committed to loving God and loving people of every race, background and culture. And it's my hope that you will help us! 

Here's how you can get involved! 

1. LEARN MORE! Here's a video that lays out who we are and what we do. 

2. GIVE: We need 100 people giving $100/month to make this possible and volunteers wiling to invest in the next generation of leaders. If you can give monthly and/or volunteer, please CLICK HERE and email nycurbanproject@gmail.com. 

3. PRAY: Email nycurbanproject@gmail.com to join our prayer team and get personal prayer requests at least once a month. 

Thank you for your prayers & partnership that make all of this possible and i'll see you at Let's Talk Avodah: Work. Worship. Serve on JUNE 12! 

To My White Friend

Dear White Friend,

You live in suburban Atlanta and if I went for a run in your neighborhood before I left I would have to ask you a some questions.

Do you have a neighborhood watch? #GeorgeZimmerman

Would I be questioned by your neighbors as to why I was there?

Are you gonna be here when I get back? Because it's better if you let me in than your neighbors see my black face run up to your front door and walk in.

Oh, and if someone does ask you why I was with you, could you please not say "oh Jonathan, he's one of the good ones"?

Because these are the types of things that keep me up at night before I come to visit you because you live in a de facto segregated neighborhood and are ignorant of how redlining and Jim Crow gated off your community and is "open to" but really closed to people like me. Black people that is.

And please don't try to liberate me from my fear by minimizing it or educating me. I am free in Christ and  educated, formally and informally, by my family, my experiences and the Ivy League and all have taught me the same lessons. Sadly, no amount of education can liberate all of us from ignorance.

I need you to understand that I don't need converting from liberal to conservative or democrat to republican. Or swayed away from socialism or convinced that the American Dream and capitalism are consistent with the Bible. I really need to be seen, heard and felt.

My daughter will be born into a world where every ethnicity in her blood suffered under colonization by white people and because she is multi-racial, contrary to your possible beliefs, it doesn't make her more likely to get scholarships to college. It makes her more likely to be killed in police custody, suspended from school, not called back for a job, and a list too long for me to type here - not because I don't know more examples but because it makes me too sad and afraid. Selah.

Martin Luther King had a dream in Georgia that he talked about in DC. And I have that same dream in our conversation in 2016. To be seen, not taught. To be heard, not converted. To be felt as a black american person, talking to a white american person, not another black man stuck in the wrong mindset.  I don't know if you'll respond to this letter. I've already accepted it if you don't. But if what I have said makes you angry, ask yourself why are you mad before you write. And if are annoyed or feel attacked, ask yourself what assumptions are causing that reaction. Because I'm not trying to convert you from republican to democrat or conservative to liberal. I'm not trying to get you to support black lives matter.

I am trying to be seen and heard and felt because my black life matters.

Always & sincerely,

Your very black friend

Unmarked burial ground at the University of Virginia. 

Unmarked burial ground at the University of Virginia. 

If I Were Running for President

Donald Trump once said of the ISIS, "I would bomb the hell out of them" and I totally agree.

If I was president, I would gather  my joint chiefs of staff, cabinet and top law makers in the Oval Office. I would have every aircraft carrier and military transport vehicle on standby. My chief of staff and aides would organize a global campaign of domestic and international rallies and meetings to ensure the optics were right and garner widespread support. And then I would unleash every American citizen, soldier and civilian to be as compassionate as sacrificially possible. Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco and every corner of the globe where there is violence, abuse and unrest, Americans are coming. Not because we are spreading democracy or because we are the world's police but because fighting people and dying is more expensive than feeding them. Building schools is cheaper then bombing them and rebuilding them. Lying to cover up lies is more costly than the truth. And our present way of living is costing us our present and our future.

Every bomb, I would replace with loaves of GMO-free locally grown bread and vegetables and bricks to build schools and institutions of higher learning. I would deploy the corps of engineers to hospitals for doctors and schools for teachers to treat and train the sick and the local population; and counselors would ensure there were no brothels nearby and laborers weren't exploited.  Instead there would be homes for addicts and classes for those who are illiterate and out of work.

"Oh what if you're attacked? Isn't this idealistic and naive?" My response would be freedom costs time, money, energy and yes sometimes our very lives. And for the women of Allepo to know that they're not invisible and uncared for I would be willing to die.

*If you're reading this thinking - oh, this is just some puff piece or prose pegged for some "human interest" portion on the last 5 minutes of the local news. You are sorely mistaken and I am as serious as the situation in Syria, Lebonon, Lesbos and Flint, Michigan. 

I would deploy communities to document undocumented people, because it's really hard to care for someone you don't know lives in your house. Every immigrant and every refugee would have a home. Not just the educated, connected ones who benefit our economy.  No doubt, this would be an all out assault on ignorance, xenophobia, and abuse of power. This war at home and abroad would draft men, women and children because all play a crucial role in loving our neighbors around the corner and around the world.

If I was President, the powers that be would  try to kill me  because I am trying to kill their way of being. And they would be 1000% right. I want total destruction for every system of exploitation, violence, and selfishness on the planet and redemption and transformation for the people responsible. I am not scared of death or torture because the leader of this movement that I'm a part of was tortured by the government and the religious leadership. He was vilified by outsiders and the establishment. He was murdered in broad daylight and hush money shielded the guilty. And then He rose on the third day and we literally hinge time on His birth, death, and resurrection saying B.C. and A.D.

If I was President, I wouldn't form a religious state or theocracy because my leader didn't do that either. But I believe He invited all to be the best versions of themselves being measured not by how big your house is but constantly asking, how large is your heart? And have you allowed the light of love, Justice, mercy and reconciliation to drive out the darkness of greed and striving so you can feed those who are starving?

Is there really not room for one more at your table? Is there really no more room in your house? No clothing or shoes that you can spare? No money that you wouldn't give up if it meant that we all could have what we need and work together to make it happen?

If I was President, no I would not be a socialist, a socialite or king of social media but I would certainly be civil and sociable to those who hate me. I would strive to be kind to world leaders and pundits who berate me. I wouldn't need to manage my image because I would be willing to ask for forgiveness. I am flawed and sometimes I'm wrong and need accountability.

So since I think this way so deeply, I'll probably always be in a non-profit, defined by what I don't worship, contribute or organize my life around - profit. But maybe there will be a season where people demand something different in a city council member,  mayor, senator or even president. Someone needed who doesn't believe we can legislate or incarcerate or militarize our way to justice, shalom and freedom.

And me, and others like me will be waiting to serve. But I won't be holding my breath. Because like Saul Williams said, "we get the leaders we deserve. ". And the table set before the american people is serving a dish of rich and connected appetizers. Greedy entrees and self-indulgent desserts. We have two options today. We can sit in the red seat or the blue seat and get a healthy helping of Hillary Clinton or a heap of Donald Trump. My fellow Americans, we ordered this. Bon apetit.

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What I Need To Live In NYC

 "What does it take to do my job in NYC?"

I usually see this as code for how much money do you need to live in NYC?

I've had to ask myself this question differently as my wife and I prepare for our first child and I desire to be an emotionally healthy husband and parent and not perpetrate the same wounds onto another generation of women in my family. And my normal response begins based on Google suggestions, little self-reflection and a series of "I don't really need..." statements. The person I'm speaking with changes the subject away from plastic, glass and embroidered things and I successfully evaded their questions with well-rehearsed thoughts on stewardship.

To be honest, to live in NYC, we need really good health insurance. My body takes a beating moving heavy boxes, going up and down subway steps with a backpack and staying in shape. I really should go to the dentist twice a year before my teeth hurt and get a physical before it's painful to just sit down. And to admit that I'm not superman I need individual and group therapy to address the emotional issues I have with physical affection, abandonment and attachment so that I can thrive not just get by in a city that is infamous for residents who celebrate anxiety, wage slavery, and not sleeping. I must admit that to say, "I'm killing it" really means "I'm killing myself."  To say that "I'm grinding" really means I'm the one being crushed and that dust that I'm supposedly leaving all the "slow, ineffective" people in is just a poor screen for me as I try to find my identity in activity because my Mom has passed away and my Father never told me who I was. Yea, good insurance that includes counseling and therapy.
I need a community willing to be with me even when we're not "working" and not celebrate my accomplishments before rebuking me for not having a sabbath. Folks that ask me "how I'm doing" not "what I'm doing" and call me out when my answer isn't genuine. I need people that don't think it's crazy to fight against racism, climate change, homelessness, and labor and sexual slavery and fight for too many types of reform even if they haven't seen the documentary because they love me and I need them to be there for me because the pain of the injustice I encounter is too much sometimes not to fight.

And I need the discipline to take all the amazing things that I've received, delight in them and be glad. Because if I don't actually slow down to be grateful and relish in God's grace then none of it actually matters because I won't even experience them.  And that's the hard part. Stopping to be grateful and enjoy because I actually have all of this. God has been and will be faithful to me amidst the pain of death, sadness and loss and in great joy and triumph.
So, today I'm truly grateful for health insurance, His blessed community, and the discipline to praise Him for all of this provision in this city.

A special thank you especially to all of those who made this last season of grieving and transition and amazing ministry opportunities possible. I speak for myself, Priscilla, Snow Bear and the little one on the way, when I say thank you for your generosity in giving your time, money, energy and wisdom to us for His Glory. Peace, joy and freedom be over you and yours.

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#RecWeek without My Mom

I used to call you when my "seasons" ended.

I know you're in bed when the game is over

But I would call you anyway

And your voice would meet mine on the phone

I would say, "what are you doing?"

And you would say "laying in my bed"

I knew the answer but I asked anyway

Because that is what we did

And now I'm not sure what to do

When the lights go off and the crowd goes home

What 10 digits will I dial because you won't pick up the phone

I don't know where home is because

you're not at the end of Allen Road

I want to stay away because then your absense is avoidable

Because I'll never have to look for your face in the doorway only to find your ashes on the bookcase

that lack will crush me

And I fear it already has

Because something inside me that was full grown

Is small again - shrunken down

Like a morning glory that hasn't seen dawn in 7 months

Perhaps I need to learn to bloom in nighttime

To find not warmth but sight by the light of the moon

I know I'm supposed to be so big now

But I feel so closed up and I don't know what to do

I'm gonna be a dad, did you know that?

A little girl due in July

Priscilla is so strong and really smart

She's gonna be a great Mom

I really wish you got to see her

gettin' real big in the middle

She wants to start her own school

It's almost like we're having two

I don't know if I'll get used to this

Us talking at night without our routine

I'm the one laying in bed

And still the one who oughtta be sleep

But I think I can accept it

Because the last things you said were not long after I started with the Lord is My Shepherd

So He must be taking care of you

You know I've got a lot of fundraising and planning to do

And I know you'd say He's gonna take care of me too

Nathan and Diamond are buying a house

Seriously, I. Can't. Even.

And Tre is gonna be 18

So hard to believe

I'm finally going to the doctor

Not for my knee but for my back, feet and shoulder

I know you'll say I only get one body

And they don't sell pieces of me in the store

Mike Rob and Steph got married

And so did Sy and Gabby

Trump is still running for president

And I promise I'll be careful at those rallies

To end our call I'd always ask what time is it and you'd say, "did I get to where I was going"

I'd say yes a long time ago and you'd say "time for you to go to the bathroom

And for both of us to go to bed

So good night until I call again

Or the light of Christ shine bright and we both bloom for forever.

--- 

Thank you to Peter Cho and the students from Binghamton for their grace, space and patience even as I lead them; and for Pete Scazzero, Rich Villodas and Redd Sevilla for leading me the same way. I am limited, finite and broken but I have access to a limitless, infinite and Holy and whole God. He is Risen! 

Suicide Is Always An Option

Brandon sits on the corner of 53rd and 6th. He doesn't have a home to call his own because of his history of addiction. He knows that and by God's grace he told my students this week that he's been able to stay sober. He made a promise to his mother at the bedside of his brother who had overdosed that he would get clean so she would not lose another son; and he did.

Someone walked by him before our volunteers met him and said, "suicide is always an option". And walked away.

When Siennah said that to me, my heart sank. She continued to tell the story but I was stuck there. How callous, impoverished and depleted does one's heart have to be to look down at someone and say, "suicide is always an option". The words I want to use for this person are admittedly much worse than what I've typed here. But that is not what God wanted me to focus on.

Because Brandon, when these words were said to him considered suicide for a moment and then knowing that He has a Father in heaven who loves him began to pray. He called on God because he knew over and beyond the silent and spoken curses of men and women in business suits were the words of a suffering Savior who speaks peace and love over him. And then - Siennah, Wanjiru, Gloria and Katie - answered his prayer with food, prayer and presence. Their listening was a reminder that he is not invisible but valuable. His story was treasured and his smile a delight to 4 students who hailed from Taiwan, Kenya, Bergen County and Queens by way of Vassar and RIT.

The story here is not the tragic reality of someone inviting someone else to end his own life. The story is that instead of Brandon killing himself, he turned to Jesus. And Jesus answered his prayer.

God is permanently on the side of the oppressed. He sees those who are  marginalized, homeless, abandoned, broken, unemployed, imprisoned, left behind, left out, grieving, diseased, wandering, misunderstood, and invited to kill themselves. And He comes to our aid. He is near to the broken-hearted. Selah.

On this Good Friday, I am so grateful for this vivid picture that because Jesus was forsaken on the Cross, none of us, especially those on the street will never ultimately be forsaken.

Brandon told my students that he appreciated them stopping and if they saw his brother across the street and he wasn't in the best mood to "please be patient with him, he's still working on the God thing." I ask God today for patience, grace and forgiveness to fill my heart and remove the bitterness I have towards the stranger who cursed our new friend because it sounds like he's still working on the God thing too.

*This is a reflection from Feed 500 during #RecWeek16, a ministry of InterVarsity's New York City Urban Project. Special thanks to KIND Bars, One Sandwich at a Time, and Calvary Baptist Church for their generous support.

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Responding to Injustice is NOT Optional, But Necessary. Join Us!

At some point along our journeys with Jesus, commandments became suggestions and a personal walk with God got traded for downloading others' spirituality. Instead of seeking justice as part of our every day lives, we go to conferences and hear other people's stories and start to say "we" fed the homeless, "we" are helping victims of human trafficking, "we" are fighting climate change - when in reality we are reading, talking, posting, and re-posting things about justice instead of having first-hand encounters with the God who came, was buried, raised and is coming again. We invite you to have an encounter with Jesus and respond to the radical, transformative love of God with radical, transformative worship through words and deeds with power. 

In a world where racism and police brutality have been dragged into the light, human trafficking continues to reign in the shadows, educational inequality ensures poverty strikes another generation, and we are all too BUSY pursuing the dreams of comfort and success -- we invite you to stop, meet with God and respond! 

For a complete list of our events this March, CLICK HERE

March 6, 13, 20, 27 | 4pm - 6pm, Why We Must Seek Justice and Shalom and How to Do It!

March 6, 13, 20, 27 | 7pm - 9pm, Teach Us How to Pray: Worship and Intercession to End Human Trafficking

March 7, 14, 21, 28 | 6:30pm - 8:30pm, Learning to Listen: The Stories of Immigrants  

March 8, 15, 22, 29 | 6:30pm - 8:30pm, UNDivided: Transforming the Lives of Young People In Need

March 9, 16, 23, 30 | 6:30pm - 8:30pm, How to Pursue Racial Reconciliation and Fight for Racial Justice

March 10, 17, 24, 31 | 6:30pm - 8:30pm, Loving Yourself to Love Others Well

These are not events just to come to, but places to be equipped, blessed and sent to love our neighbors well. If you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to reach out to nycurbanproject@gmail.com. 

For My Birthday, Please Pray for Me!

Before I got on stage at Urbana 2015 to perform I started to cry. It was the first time I was performing a poem without my Mom. She died on September 13, and my hope was that she would be at this conference to see just how far her boy from Brodnax had come.

As I walked backstage and received prayer, one of the intercessors told me she got an image of Moses being pushed out in the basket to be raised by the Egyptians. The story of Moses is a staple for me. I can be quick-tempered, passionate and murderous. And at the same time desire deeply to have encounters with God that lead me and the oppressed to freedom. When I took the train to NYC for the first time to visit Columbia University, I came alone. Instead of a basket, it was Amtrak. And instead of Egypt, it was somewhere north of DC. My Mom blessed and sent me to a place she had never been because she knew I couldn't stay there with her. She told me on more than one occasion that God had something more for me to do. She maxed out credit cards and got family and friends to give money for me to visit what would be my alma mater and ultimately my principle mission field. "The same God that's in Brodnax, is God up there," she said. Later, I learned just how many of her prayers had been answered as she pleaded with God to give me mothers and fathers that could guide me where she could not go. 

And as I hugged Alison Siewart and wept, I know those prayers are still being answered. I walked backstage to hug my wife and 4 other amazing women of God, 2 of whom had adopted black children. God provides exceedingly and abundantly beyond what we could ask or imagine and if we leave mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers for His sake, we gain so much more. These were just scriptures before but at Urbana the Word became flesh for me. 

Further reflecting, 15 years ago I started to write poetry. And in 2005, I began to wrestle seriously with what it meant to fight sex-trafficking and labor exploitation. Soon after prayer and intercession in 2008 took on new meaning and became an integral part of my life as I began to direct InterVarsity's New York City Urban Project. In 2011 I heard clearly from God to make a 20 year commitment to this work. 

Now, as I look into the future with at least 15 years left on-staff with InterVarsity I realize that what brought me to this place will not get me to where I am to go. The best of what I had to offer in my personal life and professional career was on display at Urbana. At the conference, I had 5 responsibilities. 

- led the backstage intercessory team alongside 5 powerful women of God including my wife!

- led a team during the Hack4Mission to expand our LoGOFF platform

- taught a seminar on racial reconciliation and racial justice

- facilitated a "community day" for anyone interested in learning more about stewardship and the LoGOFF Movement 

- performed an original spoken word piece from the main stage 

Praise be to God for those who came alongside me to make all of these things possible. It was a privilege to offer myself in these ways. As I reflect on the culmination of these efforts, I am challenged in my life as an intercessor, maker of disciples, an artist, and the servant leader of a movement. I know that what got me "here" will not get me "there". 

Our culture is about being the "man on stage" and following Jesus is all about giving glory to the "man upstairs". 

What would it look like to allow God to be the chief actor and make disciples instead of being the well-known teacher, speaker, or activist? One build campaigns and the other stewards movements. One path lives out the commission of our culture and the other lives out the commission of Our Lord. I don't want to be a savior, I want to be a disciple and I need to build the disciplines to do so. 

Would you pray that I am able to cultivate a rule of life that enables me to love myself well? 

Would you pray that I'm able to cultivate a rule of life that enables me to love Priscilla well? 

Would you pray that I'm able to cultivate a rule of life that enables me to shepherd those staff, students and communities that God places under my leadership? 

Would you pray for the financial resources necessary to sustain all of the above? And if God is inviting to you be an answer to that prayer click here to give!

Today, I'm taking a retreat of silence to meet with Jesus and covet your prayers and petitions. He is Good and Faithful and your reading this message is evidence of that.

Yes, Our "Food" Is Killing Us (and we knew that already)

We must be clear that the wages of sin is always death; but everything that kills isn't always immediately lethal. And even the harm sometimes isn't visibly apparent until it's too late. Our animal-based diet is the perfect example of how our desire for instant gratification in money and stuff trumps reason and human decency.

Our "food" is killing us. And the food industry knew that a long time ago. Books like The Omnivore's Dilemma or farmer/activists like Will Allen and Joel Salatin like spoke out a long time ago. The WHO's report is another volley to the front pages of websites and newspapers that will soon be wiped away with sleek ad campaigns and well-compensated health professionals that will say in too many syllables "keep eating what you want, we can't really prove that there are consequences".  The chief problem is that massive food companies like Kraft, Cargill, Nestle and McDonalds make more money than they ever have so they will never tell us the truth. The truth doesn't earn compound interest, lead to better quarterly earnings, and certainly wouldn't raise consumer confidence. So, unfortunately, much like the disposable clothing and electronics industry that exploits millions of workers around the world and commercial sexual exploitation that commoditizes vulnerable women, men, and children, we will choose profits and pleasure over people and the planet to fill our insatiable need for more.

When my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, my family researched every form of treatment possible. Doctors and documentaries agreed on a few things but not many, so certainty on treatment was hard to find. And when my mother was diagnosed with cancer a year later, the search for options other than chemo was even more frenetic. Ultimately, my mother and father-in-law passed away from the cancers that overtook their bodies. But something that my mom said to me after she read Forks Over Knives, The China Study and began to eat differently was, "why would people do this if they know it makes people sick. It's just cruel." And it is cruel, isn't it?

Isn't it cruel that ranchers had Dorothy Stang, a nun who defended the poor and indigenous people of Brazil, killed so that they could burn down millions of acres of forest per year to make more room for cattle ranches unchallenged?

Isn't it cruel that farmers, scientists and activists willing to ask hard questions of the massive food industry are stripped of their livelihoods and threatened with violence and lawsuits? All of this in an attempt to protect the profits of rich and powerful people who intend to use their power to become richer still.

It boggles my mind how much money goes into lobbying senators and representatives, crafting custom legislation, and prime time advertisements to keep us hooked on sugar, salt and fat at the cost of billions of lives around the world and the planet we all inhabit.

It is a lie that we need to drink cow's milk to have healthy bonesIt is a lie that we need meat and dairy are necessary to have a complete diet. Aaron Simpson, Sammy Ray Foxworth and Serena Williams seem to be doing just fine.
It is a lie that men must eat tons of meat to be more masculine. Sammy Ray does CrossFit professionally and Sammy Ray is a pro-MMA fighter so I don't think any of us would question their manhood.

l believed all of these lies and more but as I began to lose weight, sleep through the night, not have gas after eating, have regular bowel movements, get clearer skin, and more I realized that eating meat and diary wasn't helping me, it was harming me. I am now in better physical health than I was in high school. And can own the sins I committed and those done on my behalf that have detrimental effects on people and the environment. And it is confession and repentance that presses me to pursue stewardship and push hard against the tide of consumption because I believe we were made for much more than this.

Romans 1 says that we will create new ways to sin against God and one another and isn't that exactly what we have done? Where we don't care who or what is hurt down start of our actions as long as we are protected, profitable and don't have to "see" the person, animal or environment that is destroyed because we couldn't say "no" to a sirloin, porterhouse or pork chop. Lord have mercy.

Praise God that His commission to us in Genesis is still our commission today. To flourish, work, rule and create to seek shalom, peace between all relationships. Not to dominate, deplete, degrade and destroy creation to suit our own gains. Actions and reactions that go against the purposes for which we were created are sin; so we will pursue that which is fixed on God's original intentions and His redemptive ends. That includes the food we buy, prep, cook and eat! 

We must take stock of the clear difference between the offers of God and all other propositions. Jenny Craig may give you practical steps to change your diet but God is giving you an invitation to transform your life and the lives vulnerable plants, animals and people. Instead of organizing our lives around ourselves, orient ourselves around Christ, His love and His sacrifice to love and sacrifice likewise that all people and the planet around us may flourish. Romans 14, where we help one another not to stumble is more gracious than Weight Watchers; and stewarding Local*, Green*, Organic*, Fair* and Free* food and resources is not just sustainable, it's the participation in the shalom that God intended in the first place. 

Now if you just read this and you're like, I love burgers though Jonathan! Please know, I love burgers too! Especially burgers with cheese.

I just have to ask myself, "am I willing to live with the consequences of my continued exploitation of the planet and people for my immediate benefit but to the detriment of my physical health?" And sometimes the answer is yes. That is where I believe we must be gracious with ourselves and those around us and grateful that we even have the choice to eat what we want when we want it. And then, start again to do the sanctifying work of stewardship that God has called us to. In 2011, things began to change and today, almost 4 years later, meat and dairy are almost completely gone from my diet. Here are some resources that helped me along this journey. I hope that you will take the invitation to personal, relational and systemic transformation seriously and slowly eliminate animal products from your diet because you actually don't need it.