Screaming Like Rachel: Ralph Yarl

He was sent to pick up his little brothers from Northeast 115th Terrace. By mistake and without GPS, he ended up at 115th Street instead. A confusing 3 blocks away. He rang the bell and Mr. Andrew Lester answered the door and promptly shot him. He then stood over Ralph Yarl and shot him again. For good measure, I guess.

Ralph Yarl and his twin little brothers

Wounded, Ralph made it to 3 different homes before someone finally agreed to help him. They told him to lie on the ground with his hands up.

Being a 16 year old Black boy in Kansas City, Missouri means you don’t get to be without GPS, don’t get to be confused or end up at the wrong house, don’t get to knock on the door expecting the adult who answers to see you as a human being. You’re an animal. A criminal. A thing to be taken down.

Ralph Yarl

Shooting Black youth on sight while Christian nationalist legislators invade schools across the country to protect the feelings of white children presumed to not have the fortitude and wherewithal to handle the truth and facts of American history – tells us what we need to know about America.

Sick. Diseased. Moral monsters.

Being Black is not America’s problem.

Being white and incapable of naming and addressing the anti Black narratives that live in your soul, that make you trigger happy when it comes to Black children, that empowers you to scroll pass Ralph’s face and not be enraged and radicalized – that is the problem. And I have it on good authority that God Almighty is supremely pissed about it.

His family members are doing what so many Black family members have had to do because the press will portray this Black child as deserving to be taken down like an animal – they are talking about his grades, his artistry, his goodness, his character. As if they have to justify Ralph’s worthiness.

Will we need a Green Book to mark the homes where the occupants have declared creating hell and misery on earth for Black children to be their vocation? Will we need to post lawn signs and stickers where neighbors have declared that a bleeding Black child is not their concern?

I’m weary. And I wish there was a North Star, a Drinking Gourd, a Canada even – because I’d gather Black children up and we’d start walking to freedom.

But there isn’t and so I’ll have to scream like Rachel.

Fisk University God God's love grace Uncategorized

Repost: Finding Life in the God-Story

Fisk Memorial Chapel

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was on my way to the Fisk Memorial Chapel one late Saturday afternoon to prepare for the next day’s worship service. It was fall of my junior year — and the university was broke, and unfortunately stuck with me as a makeshift student chaplain. If there was to be leadership for Sunday worship, if there was to be an effort to make ready a space for students to gather to give praises to God — if there was to be someone to choose the morning’s hymns and to figure out how to transpose the keys on the opening and closing hymns and play them on the broken carillon with its keyboard full of stuck and missing keys (and to do that without cussing!), then I needed to get my butt in gear.

As I headed to the Chapel, two brothers (as in dudes — don’t know if they were related!) approached me.  I vaguely heard their attempts at getting my attention, but my mind was focused on the task at hand (i.e., what is the deal with tomorrow’s worship — and where are You, God — do YOU really think this is funny?!?!?!? At least keep me from abusing the campus with wrongly transposed hymns on this broken carillon because everybody’s got enough ISSUES and who needs to hear a weirded out version of “O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”!!!!).  

I did not hear the brothers call out to me. Bad mistake. Rude dudes do not like to be ignored. They stopped a few other classmates and asked questions about me — probably something on the order of, “who does she think she is, ignoring all of this double good Mack-daddy-ness?!” From what I understand, these brothers were assured — “she’s not ignoring you, she’s not like that — she just focused on the ultimate challenge for tomorrow.”

And, that did not sit well with the dudes.

Later, they came knocking on the door.

Them:  “We’d like to talk to you.  We heard that you are studying to be a “minister”.

Me:  Okay.

Them:  “Well, let’s talk about that.  We are seminary students here in Nashville — and we know that God doesn’t call women to preach. In fact, it’s ridiculous for a woman to serve as a minister of the Gospel in any capacity.”

Me:  Okay. (But really thinking…ridiculous?  Dang, that’s deep!)

Them:  “Can we come in?”

Me:  Okay. 

(I would like to say that I was being open-minded about this and just wanted to debate with them. The truth is, nobody told me that God did not call women to preach. This bit of info was relatively new “news” to me. Even though I did not meet a woman minister (the Rev. Dr. Karen Y. Collier) until I landed at Fisk University, it did not occur to me that folks had real issues with this until long after I had accepted my call and preached that first sermon at the age of 17. My role model for ridiculousness was James Snodgrass. I grew up watching him walk the Jericho roads in my hometown of Newark, NJ. He invited me and others to walk with him. I watched him challenge the conditions that produced Jericho roads for so many people. It was not glamorous work! Who would volunteer for that? Who would do that outside of being compelled by God? So, I’m thinking the unglamorous work of deconstructing and constructing roads is what ministers do –it just never occurred to me that there were folks who cared that the Jericho Road deconstruction crew be “manned.”

I really wanted to hear why these students thought it was ridiculous for a woman to serve as a minister of the gospel in any capacity. I mean, we were standing on the campus of Fisk University, whose heartbeat was life for formerly enslaved ancestors who proved that God often calls the least expected to do ridiculous things.

Ridiculous? Maybe, I was. Yet even so, here I stood listening to fragments of this conversation. A “first generation” college student standing here because of the whispering dreams of the enslaved – people who dared to hope that their dreams for me would not be too ridiculous for God to honor.

Anyway, I digress….I wanted to hear the arguments so I listened more intently to their conversation, and they were more than happy to share.

Them: (Actually, Dude No. 1) — “it’s really about Eve. She brought sin into the world through her weakness.”

Me:  Wow. You really think that? (But, I’m really thinking…dude, if you think that, my preaching is really the least of your problems, buddy. Just who is your momma?)

Them: (Actually, Dude No. 2) — “no, it’s really about the Apostles admonitions for women to be quiet in the church. We need discipline and order. Going against a direct command like that is a sin.”

Me.  Oh. (I’m really thinking…what about all the other commands and admonitions? Shellfish, pork, relieving yourself within the confines of the camp, differentials in time for “uncleanliness” after the birth of a son or a daughter, slaves obeying masters….gosh, if faith and obedience was really that simple, just who has been in charge of making it so hard???? Get them to stop it!”)

Them: Literally, them — they started arguing back and forth between each other about the real reasons God’s call to me was ridiculous. God prefers men. Black people need strong men in the American context. Women?! The Bible says, the Bible says…..

There was no agreement among them, no consensus on anything except “no women.” But, who knows why? Naturally? Inherently and uniquely sinful? Or, because it was the command of the Apostles, the command of God?

My head swung back and forth as if I were at a tennis match. Pretty soon, They forgot all about Me and argued and debated with Each Other as if I were not in the room. And then it hit me –I experienced a phenomenal moment of grace as this “discussion” was raging on – grace that ushered in a watershed moment for me with respect to understanding myself as God’s own and understanding.

Their discussion shifted from sharing their scriptural “proof-texts” to arguing among themselves about the real reasons God does not call women to lead. As I was registering the disagreements they were having among themselves – and the range of scriptural texts they were throwing around to prove God’s propensity to steer away from women — something happened to me that changed my life forever. By now, these guys had forgotten all about me in the room and were totally focused on their own argument.

I knew that I was where I was, not because of scriptural texts. I was standing in the fullness of who I was – poor, black, female, maybe ridiculous, but called — standing on the campus of Fisk University because of the whole God-story. At that moment, by the grace of God, I saw it: they were arguing about something that God had settled long ago. I am made in the image of God. I could get lost in the “verses,” over which we will argue until the end-times, or I could find my life in the God-story.

Fisk University, 1984

I am still choosing the Big God-Story.

It is a big, big, simple story: God traveled down through generations and interrupted the flow of time and history to wrap God’s self in flesh and to move into our neighborhood. God did this so that God could walk with us, turn us around, grace us with freedom and liberty, show us how much we are loved and teach us how to love one another. That love was not conquered by Calvary and that same love raised Jesus up on the third day for God’s sake, but also so that we would know that our lives — our hopes, our ridiculous dreams, and our spirits — did not have to end in a borrowed tomb. There will never be dead ends with God’s love. For those who pursue that love, there is a charge and challenge for today and a resting place for tomorrow. Tomorrow’s rest is not sleep. It is an exit from weariness, slavery, brokenness and travail. It is entry into the greatest choir of Singers of all time. These Singers never stop singing in harmony — incredible voices of an untold number! (You need voices of all kinds to sing this kind of harmony — the songs of the redeemed!)

It is an awesome responsibility to faithfully extend — every day — the invitation to all of God’s people to find themselves in this big, big, simple story. It is a huge effort to witness to God’s desire for all people, not just some, to be caught up in this story…especially when power prioritizes a few verses of incomplete stories here and there.

Because those dudes really liked to hear themselves talking, their argument raged on without my input. Most arguments do not need my input, hence the conviction that my energy will be spent elsewhere, namely, picking up people (with my hand and with a Word) who have been beaten down on the Jericho Road, and witnessing against the power of that old enemy – slavery. I will be doing the ridiculous work of challenging the conditions that create Jericho Roads in a world where God intends the beloved to flourish.

I thanked God for the grace of the moment. Then I served them popcorn as I worked out in my head the order of Chapel Service for the next day and prayed that I could settle on a simple call to worship in the key of C, the only truly working key on the carillon!

Here is a prayer for anyone who finds themselves on a bench at a world-class tennis match where the ultimate goal is to be overcome and worn out by an argument that is not yours, and not God’s:

“God, send us Your Grace that we might not get lost in anything except the incredibly Big Story of your amazing love. That’s it. That’s the prayer, God. Help us not get sidetracked and lost in texts and arguments. We need our carillons tuned to play your songs in the many keys of a thriving world.”



“From the Hearts of Us…”

Photo by Barnabas Hertelendy on Unsplash
Excerpts from Jan Richardson's 
"Blessing in a Time of Violence" 
(The Cure for Sorrows: A Book of Blessings)

Which is to say
this blessing
is always.

Which is to say
there is no place
this blessing
does not long
to cry out
in lament,
to weep its words
in sorrow,
to scream its lines
in sacred rage....

Which is to say
there is no day
this blessing ceases
to whisper
into the ear
of the dying,
the despairing,
the terrified....

Which is to say
there is none
that can stop it
none that can
halt its course,
none that will
still its cadence,
none that will
delay its rising,
none that can keep it
from springing forth
from the mouths of us 
who hope,
from the hands of us
who act,
from the hearts of us
who love,
from the feet of us
who will not cease
our stubborn, aching
marching, marching
until this blessing 
has spoken 
its final word,

until this blessing
has breathed
its benediction
in every place,
in every tongue:


Dissenting from the Culture of Death

Photo by Veit Hammer on Unsplash

Today67,090 new COVID cases in New York.

Today – 500 more people hospitalized, bringing the total COVID hospitalizations to 6,767.

Today – urgent care medical centers are closing because staffing can’t meet demand.


Today. I read an article highlighting persons demonstrating against vaccinations, masks, and any and all interventions; while the article situated right beside it highlighted medical professionals at the breaking point, exhausted, demoralized, and angry tired because their facilities are overwhelmed with COVID cases. 

Dissonance. It’s like we are living in a dystopian television series. Today.

I read through the local COVID statistics for New York and was unable to wade through the news for the rest of the country. I am weary. I had to acknowledge my own grief. I am a hugger, for God’s sake! I’ve lost so many people in these last two years. So many. I never had the chance to say goodbye to some of them.

Grief exacerbated by not being able to say goodbye may not seem like a lot to some. But I am carrying a knot of grief the size of my beloveds in my heart. Heavy. Numbered among those lost to me is my sister, Betty.


God has already given us everything we need to work together to write a different story. Dystopian misery is not the intractable will of God. We are not doomed by God to want no more for each other than a wretched

We can take a position on the wall and declare with the actions of our lives – no more energy-draining shame and ridicule for our neighbors. The times call for loving and hopeful action. No rebuking words, no pontificating words, no lying words, no accusing words, no condescending words, no judgmental words, no hateful words, no partisan words. No more biting words. 

I am just coming to reckon with the weight of my own grief.

This sucks.

I don’t want thoughts and prayers – no more holy words masking inaction and maintenance of the status quo.

Regardless of whether a person was vaccinated before they died, spoke
against vaccinations, or whatever – they left behind communities, people who will spend their lives untying messy knots of grief. That grief will look like anger and rage and stubbornness for some; and depression, reckless behavior, and compassionless actions for others. I wish for all who are hurting – even if they don’t know that they are hurting – a measure of what I need for myself. — the loving presence of God and wise, silent friends. 

Over 820,000 people lost nationwide.

132 deaths in New York on Monday.

77 deaths in New York on Tuesday.

97 deaths in New York today, Wednesday.

306 local hearts stilled. 

There are no words to prepare us for how many we will lose tomorrow.

I hope that Gene Sharp, whose strategies for nonviolent direct action helped to topple repressive governments across the globe, can appreciate and allow for my pastoral reinterpretation of one of his principles. We who want peace, justice, life, and the
possibility of a flourishing tomorrow for everyone, not just the members of our own tribes, will be a strong and compelling force for life only when our preaching, moralizing, and raging is accompanied by the withdrawal of our consent and cooperation with a death-dealing culture that presses us to “move on” – unmindful and dismissive of the 820,000 empty chairs around our dining room tables.

No more violence. Speak, rehearse, over and over again, the hopeful, compassionate, and loving life. I say “rehearse” because choosing love requires practice, discipline, and persistence. Choosing loving behavior that keeps your neighbors safe is not instinctive. It’s not easy. We all swim in the waters of blatant disregard for the dignity of our neighbors.

Maybe that is the dialogue we can have within our circles of influence
today. What does it mean to love our neighbors? How can we support each other to choose love? What role can I play in influencing those in my circle to engage in loving action?

I’m not suggesting that our individual acts and commitments will exempt us from undertaking the massive job ahead of us to create a just and enduring infrastructure of care. What I am saying is that whatever revolution we might hope for in our society has a better chance for grounding if it takes hold within us personally and individually.

In an interconnected world where not having the resources to contain a virus in one country has profound implications for life and health in another country way across the world, hoarding, monetizing, and capitalizing on tests, vaccinations, and treatments is just violent. It is a blatant disregard for humanity.

In the face of children across the globe who have lost both parents to this virus, insisting on the individual right to reject reasonable interventions is a violence that just propels grief into the future, encased in their little parentless bodies. It is a blatant rejection of a hopeful future for us all.

I don’t know what hopeful action action looks like in your neck of the woods. I’m sure that you will know, however. You do know.

In mine, it looks like doing everything I can not to add to the burden of overwhelmed health professionals; not creating risk for my immune-compromised neighbors; and, sharing what I have with those who must choose between safety for their families or food on their tables.

The revolution always begins with the choice to love and to hope. It always begins within.


Mary Uncategorized

I Will Not Do This Without You

Art by Laura James:
Elizabeth greets Mary (Luke 1:39-40)
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town in Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth…”

I will not do this without you.

You know what it means to wait.

You know what it means to hope.

You know what it means to work.

You know what it means to try.

You know what it means to hear cries you cannot soothe.

You know what it means to bind wounds

and to sit in silence with the broken-hearted,

to squeal for joy in code.

I will not do this without you.

You know what it means to resist,

to refuse to wear the cloak of the dead,

to refuse to dance to the song

of the one who holds the whip.

You know what it means

to pull from the storehouse of dreams

and to make something life-giving for everyone 

out of the scraps of the nothing they didn’t want.

I will not do this without you.

You know what it means to be 

the least likely,

the last one expected,

the “you have never been enough,”

but now you must be 


you were visited in the night

by a miracle – one that you must

carry until it lives.

I will not do this without you.

I sing songs of liberation built on

the chords of melodies you sang long ago.

I hold my head up high, still, even, despite, through – 

because you told me there was music in the air.

There is a God.


There is. 

I keep pressing on because 

you etched with your fingers

signs and arrows,

determined that I would find a way.

I will not do this without you.

Not now.

I’m too far gone down the road

to turn back now.

Whatchu say now?

Yes, Mary did run this way,

headed fast to a world not like this.

Keep calling, my Sisters.

Yes, Elizabeth took a post on the edge of the wilderness, looking for anyone who needed a safe place to rest.

Keep singing, my Mothers.

Keep beckoning, my Fathers.

Keep whispering, my Brothers.

Keep shining, my Niblings. 

I see you.

I need you.

I will not do this without you.


Love That Is of God…

Three Girls Watching a Plane, Vivian Cherry

And we know the love that is of God is alive among us when the love of God grows.

When I thought I was full, 
God sent more.
God inspired more.
God provoked 
and instigated more.
And the Love 
that is of God 

Love that is of God
is big love,
good love,
enduring and grounded
and soaring and sweeping
and lyrical and quiet.

It is ferocious love that 
the I AM never made because 
the love that is of God
refuses to be small. 

Love that is of God
is practical and joyful
and transformative 
and subversive -- 
refusing to ever 
leave us be

Love that is of God
is sufficiency
and transforms into abundance
when shared with another.

Love that is of God 
never subtracts,
never diminishes,
never humiliates,
never erases - anyone.

Love that is of God
is the antidote to lies.
Love that is of God 
tells the healing truth,
weaves and re-weaves,
and braids together,
and adds and multiplies 
and compounds love.

Love that is of God
is limitless
and stubborn
and it never, ever dies.

That love is too big for borrowed tombs.
That love swallows up death.
That love shares power with 
the beloved
to keep 
getting up
because that love loves.

Love that is of God
makes a home
in all of the places
and in all of the people,
and in all of the stories
that we would not.

Love that is of God
beckons us to stretch,
to be more - 
to see more -
to want more -
to pursue more -
to feel more -
not because we are not enough
but because we are more.
Love that is of God
says, "Be who you are."

Love that is of God 
shows off,
leading with a heart
that delights
in the giggles of children
and the songs of the aged.

Love that is of God
cries and weeps and storms
and becomes furious
and indignant
at the sight of 
God's beloved
fashioning God's own 
words and resources
into weapons and bonds 
and chains and stumbling blocks
for God's beloved. 

Love that is of God
breathes on
the canvass of every night,
turning up the wattage
of every sparkling star
assigned to lead
the beloved to freedom.

Love that is of God sings.

Love that is of God searches,
never sleeps,
travels light,
makes room,
gathers chicks
and stubbornly refuses
to leave
not nary a one behind,
not nary a one out,
not nary a one alone.

When we think we are full, 
God sends more.
God inspires more.
God provokes and instigates more.

And we know the love 
that is of God
is alive among us
when the 
love of God grows.

Love that is of God says, “Be who you are.”

Image: “Three Girls Watching a Plane,” by Vivian Cherry.


Letting Go

Photo by Vicky Sim on Unsplash

Dear Black Womyn holding the world together, holding the beams up, holding the flood waters back, holding, holding, holding:

Let it go.

It may all come crashing down. And maybe it should.

It will be hard and painful and devastating. And maybe it should be.

Folks gon’ be mad. Maybe that’s alright.

It may break you into a thousand pieces to see what you have held together with faith, love, tears, crazy glue, ingenuity, wit, and stubbornness break with you.

But what if it doesn’t come crashing down? What if it doesn’t sink under the waters? What if it doesn’t break when you let go?

Step out of traffic.

Stand back.

Stand down.

Join with all nature in manifold witness and watch for God.

Whatever God does…maybe God will. And even if God does not, whatever God will do with you will be what God intended for you – to not be God.

Yes, let’s let go.


Don’t Blame God for This

As millions of people from all walks of life were taking to the streets in protest after police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds on May 25, 2020, I tried my best to avoid engaging in conversations where people were trying to arrest something ‘meaningful’ from the incomprehensible.

There is no ‘reason’ that police brutality marches on even during a global pandemic other than policing is brutal in season and out, and brutal policing of Black peoples serves the interests of power.

About a month after Floyd’s death, I was having Zoom drinks with a dear white friend when, for a moment, I let my guard drop.

“God Bless George Floyd,” she said. “He is the wake-up call God intended for us.”

I listened to her find reasons that the world finally ‘saw’ the video of Chauvin pressing the life out of Floyd with his knees. She was clear – the world needed to see ‘this brutality’ to finally do something about bad cops. I listened. Mostly, I just wept silent tears. The more I cried, the more reasons she offered for why she thought George Floyd ‘gave his life.’ Finally, I wiped my face and tried to remember that I was sitting with someone I considered a friend. I held my hand up asking her to stop and took a few deep breaths.

With the anguish of the exhausted, and with the images of trading cards and post cards depicting the lynchings of Black people ingrained in my mind, I responded trying to hold on to the last bit of whatever one holds on to in the effort to contain boiling rage.

“I’m trying to show some grace for the sake of our friendship, but I’m exhausted by holding that kind of grace and space, even with you. Don’t ever say that to anyone else. Don’t do that. God did not “intend” for George Floyd to be executed in the grossest, Blackest, and most violent, American-apple-pie kind of way possible just to send you a wake up call. He did not give up his life. He was executed.”

We sat in silence for a few moments, awkwardly staring at each other through the computer screen. Finally she said, “Well, what do you think God is trying to say by letting this happen?”

I looked at my friend and wondered what she would have said had it been my Black child calling ‘mother’ with dying breaths. What would she have said had it been me weeping and wailing over my child’s body?

“Don’t blame God for this. Don’t blame God because the system human beings intentionally designed to contain, control, and kill people who look like me actually works,” I whispered. “The question is not, “What is God saying.” The question is what will you do?”

The Rev. Timothy Adkins-Jones invited me to preach one of the Good Friday sermons for his April 2021 service at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, NJ. I thank him for trusting me for the assignment. I am sharing here the link to the sermon I offered for that occasion – “Trembling at Golgotha” (Matthew 27: 33-34, 45-46) because that sermon was born in the brokenness of my heart back in June 2020 as my friend and I stared at each other across a computer screen.

Trembling, trembling, trembling….still.


Not in My Control and Not God’s Will

Mommy & Rocky leaving the #SayHerName Vigil, 2014

Recently my daughter Rocky wrote a piece for her Patreon that helped me to name something that was firing up my anxiety. She wrote, “I think one of the reasons that this year was so frustrating was because we all felt so terribly out of control. It largely felt as if we were all at the mercy of Whomever Is Controlling All This and they were just having a bad day and decided to unleash a series of plagues upon us all.”

The truth is every day since we began COVID-19 related restrictions in the US, I would get up in the morning and, through tears, check the news and health authorities to get the latest numbers on how many people had contracted the virus; and how many succumbed. I would deduce from the numbers of confirmed cases and the numbers of those who had died another number – those who were recovering.

This morning ritual was my way of feeling like I was in control over something that was obviously not in my control. I thought that if I just knew what was going on, I would be able to manage the chaos of my life and these times. But obsession does not yield manageability and did nothing for my ability to deal with the uncertainty that was caused by the bungled – and criminal – US response to this virus.

There was nothing I could do about those rising numbers even though I was doing my part to adhere to common sense guidance on public gatherings and personal behavior. The way forward through this awful thing was beyond my personal discipline. There was no leadership rising in the country to rally All Americans to work together and to contain this virus. In fact, the opposite was happening. To respond to a virus we cannot shoot to death – the former president actively promoted conspiracy theories and bad science. The ruling political party discouraged people from wearing masks and ridiculed groups that halted their public gatherings.

Rocky’s perspective helped me to admit that obsessing over the numbers was my way of personally trying to control something.

What I couldn’t control or face was the fact that, even with numbers, graphs, and stats, the losses were incalculable and could not be tallied. My effort to try to do so bordered on arrogance and ignorance, but it provided some relief from the reality of chaos unfolding before my eyes every day.

Thank you, Rocky. “A little child shall lead them, the prophets said of old. Thru storm and tempest, heed them, until the bell is tolled” (A Cradle in Bethlehem.)

We cannot calculate the loss of hope and genius those we lost took with them when their lives were cut short – and political indifference cut their lives short.

It angers me when Christians say, “Well this was God’s will. God is in control. If God didn’t want this to happen, it wouldn’t. This is all a part of God’s plan.” (However, the point is not my anger about that kind of trivializing and dismissing of the impact of selfish human behavior; the point is that we do to God what Adam did to Eve. “It wasn’t me; it was her!”).

God did not plan for more than half a million people to die in the US. (Lord, have mercy on the millions across the globe.)

God did not plan for countless others to be left to deal with the lingering consequences of the virus.

God did not plan for a generation of people to be left mourning the empty chairs in their lives.

None of this is God’s will.

We who dismiss incomprehensible things like a country refusing to rally to mitigate the impact of a virus on its population because whatever is the outcome of the virus ravaging its population is actually “God’s Will,” are often the people who refuse to take responsibility for the impact of our own destructive behavior – on other people and the planet.

We yell, “Survival of the fittest!” We pontificate on those who should “Sacrifice for the American way of life.”

What we will not say is, “I am greedy and selfish and don’t care if others live or die, because I still have what I want.” Even now with the availability of vaccinations, Texas and Mississippi won’t even hold enough grace to let people get protected before they throw open the doors and windows, making people even more vulnerable to the variants of this virus – about which we still have much to learn.

No – not God’s will. Instead, this was a most profound and telling demonstration of American spirituality. Americans worship capitalism and violence and these who have died have been the sacrifices made to those gods.

I am beginning to make room to sit with what I cannot control, and in my heart, I am crafting the liturgy that addresses the weariness of ambiguous and unrelenting grief.


Just Out Here Watching Stars…

The Holy Family at Nativity, Laura James.

January 6 is the day I would have been observing the Christian remembrance of Epiphany. (Yes, I know this means lots of different things to lots of different Christians, but I’m talking about me here, so remembrance.) But like everybody else, I was gripped by the scenes of insurrection unfolding in Washington, DC. Incited by the president, the loyalists he invited to rally with him became a terrorizing mob and stormed the Capitol building.

I’m sitting here in the wee hours of morning reclaiming space to ponder the Epiphany, and all I can think is the fact that as the violence was raging in and around the Capital Building, the president and his lawyers were calling senators – the same folk hunkered down under a table somewhere, taking cover from mob violence – urging the senators to delay the certification of the Electoral College results. He didn’t hear folks yelling in the background?

As the writer of the gospel of Matthew tells the story (Matthew 2), three wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem looking for a baby. They asked around, “Hey, have you seen the baby King? Yeah, he’s Jewish. We are not, but that doesn’t matter. We saw a star and we have come to pay him some respect.” 

King Herod heard about their inquiries and was afraid. Matthew says Herod was afraid as were all of the leaders and all of the people. So, Herod tries to get information about the baby’s whereabouts from these three men. He tells them, “y’all go on and keep looking and then come back and let me know where the baby is.” 

The three wise men go on about their mission and the star they had been following leads them to Mary and Joseph’s house. They offer the gifts they had been carrying for this baby, and my heart just swells at how I imagine the scene. I love a baby shower!!! The three men must have visited for a while. They stayed long enough to go to sleep and have a dream. (I don’t know if they stayed at Mary and Joseph’s house but shout out to Mary and Joseph if they had the bandwidth to provide hospitality for strangers with a newborn. I don’t imagine Jesus was any different than any other baby, despite your hallmark cards. My first baby screamed for three months. Solid. I never slept. I digress….) 

Of course, we all have questions about this story. Herod ain’t see that blazing star in the sky? And while I might buy that Herod was afraid, I’m not really swallowing the idea that all of the leaders and all of the people in Jerusalem were afraid about the same thing that had Herod fearful. My guess? They were afraid of Herod, not afraid of the news of Mary and Joseph’s child – the baby of their neighbors, a baby born to one of them, a new baby in the community. But Matthew doesn’t offer an interview with the man on the street, so….

I wasn’t there. But I am here 3 days after the 12th Day. And I know how leaders who rule by fear and the threat of violence scare everybody in the world. The fear is not respectful “awe.” It is the fear of power-hungry leadership hell-bent on destroying everything that does not yield to them. I wasn’t in Jerusalem, but I am here in the United States. I see how horrid, narcissistic, unfit, unstable, and violent leadership feeds on destruction. I see how this leadership has set the stage for a different kind of massacre. A virus that is ravishing the globe has killed 369,000 people just in the United States as of this writing. Instead of pulling out all stops to curb the loss of life, instead of calling on the country to work together to protect one another, instead of providing leadership that makes room for grief and lament so that people turn toward each other, with his delusional fears the president turned people on each other. Intent on staying in office against the will of the people, the president has set in motion a level of violence – physical and psychic – that is simply astonishing and yet, familiar. 

Death and collateral damage are the calling cards for this kind of leadership because these leaders are so full of themselves that they won’t even look up to see what others see – a star in the sky. 

Again – I wasn’t there. But I am here. The 12th day – “Epiphany” – is a reminder that the wise ones followed “revelation and insight” on a journey of honor. They went in search of someone intent on giving from their substance and their hearts. And practicing the journey toward each other, engaging in the practices of giving to one another from substance and heart positions us to see God in each other. I know that for myself.

Epiphany is also a reminder to pay attention to instinct and dreams. (Side note: since we are talking about a baby here, I’m gonna take the liberty to say — If your child says that someone makes them feel strange, if they say they don’t want to hug some adult or visit with somebody – listen. Please listen to them. When you do, you are teaching them to trust their own instincts over conventions and cultural norms that often put children at risk. If your child doesn’t want to hug Uncle Joe or Cousin Laura, why are you forcing it?) 

Okay – my point here is pay attention to your instinct and dreams. Pay attention to common sense. Out of an abundance of caution, not trying to be part of the set-up, not wanting to tip off the feds, not trying to upstage the plans of the Liberator before he’s finished teething, not wanting to be complicit with power or promote the agenda of empire — whatever you are feeling but are too afraid to say: follow your instincts. Go home a different way, in the other direction, far away from the leaders who don’t have it in them, don’t have the insight to “uncenter themselves,” leaders who don’t care enough to stop and attend to the extraordinary, whether it be the extraordinary deaths in the land or the extraordinary star in the sky.


Matthew 2: 1-12 (NRSV)

2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.