My friend, my family, I love you; please don’t do this…

13567_tallTo my friends and family who are supporting Donald Trump: I love you. Which is why I’m writing this open letter to you. If you continue supporting this man for president, you are putting a strain on our relationship. You are jeopardizing our connection to each other. And I want to tell you this before it is too late and our bonds are broken.

I believe we are in each other’s lives because, at some point, we connected deeply. Whether it was through genetics, things in common or a shared experience, you are more than just a random person on the bus or a person I’ve just met in a bar. I saw something amazing and awesome in you and you saw something similar in me. This spark has allowed us to share our lives in intimate ways and I know it’s still there. Which is why I feel it is crucial I tell you this now: you are supporting a very dangerous hatred and it is causing me to question our relationship and friendship.

This is more than just a political disagreement. Most likely we’ve disagreed with each other in the past over a lot of unimportant and very important issues. Whether it was about economic policy, taxation, or parenting styles, we’ve had our arguments and our connection has survived. We’ve shared food and drink and debated religion and are still able to hug each other. Our bonds of friendship make it possible that we survive deep divides. And I think it is healthy to disagree and still love each other. It shows that we can be vulnerable with each other; listen to and perhaps even understand each other a little more each time we’re together. Our disagreements have made our relationship stronger.

But this is more than just a disagreement in politics or religion. You have made this about us; or rather, what you think of me and people like me. By supporting Donald Trump, you are telling me that you are a racist and a bigot who overtly supports racism and bigotry.

And your first reaction is probably, “Bullshit! How dare you call me a racist! I’m not racist! I have black friends! I treat everybody equally!” But you’re lying to me and to yourself. You see, I’m a racist too. I was socialized in a society that was built on slavery. I am aware that I have an inherent bias that equates white with goodness and black with evil. I have inherited racism from my family system and I have participated in it with thousands of macro and micro aggressions. It’s inside you and inside me because we were raised in the United States and in systems steeped in racism and bias.

The fact that racism is a part of me and most likely will never go away terrifies me. But I am committed to challenging it with every fiber of my being because I believe racism is wrong. I believe bigotry is wrong. And you, my beloved friend, are wrong. By supporting Donald Trump you are telling me that you believe every Muslim is an American hating terrorist, every Mexican is a rapist drug dealer, and that every African American is a lazy welfare criminal. That you agree Russia should have a role in our political system and that Hilary Clinton should be assassinated because she is a political opponent. These are the policies you want for our country. This is who and what you are willing to vote for. This is what you want for the United States of America.

By supporting Donald Trump, you are telling me that you are a racist, a bigot and that on some level you hate me and people like me. You know that I am a person of color. You know that my grandmother was a Mexican immigrant. You know that I am not a Christian. You know that I support Black Lives Matter. You know that I am a feminist. You know who I am and for the life of our friendship you’ve been willing to accept me and love me even if these are all things you haven’t agreed with.

Yet when I see your support of deporting Hispanics and Muslims, I see your support of deporting me.

When I see your support of abuse against Black Lives Matter protesters, I see your support of abuse against me.

When I see your support of an America that would hate me, I see your hatred of me.

I see where this political narrative is going. I paid attention in history class. My friend, my loved one… you are beginning to sound like a Nazi. Which terrifies me. Not only because I know that this isn’t you, but I can envision a day when you would support my arrest, detention, and execution. Just for disagreeing; just for dissenting.

Perhaps you think this is a bit hyperbolic; perhaps you think this would never happen in the United States of America. But take a long, hard look at the candidate you are supporting. On what he has said. On what he wants to do. My beloved, this is not you. Please tell me this isn’t you.

I get it. You hate Hillary Clinton and what she represents. You hate the idea of another Democratic administration. You hate progressive politics. You hate marriage equality. You hate taxation. You hate Black equity. You hate gun control. These are all issues we’ve struggled with in the past. But it has become bigger than just the issues.

This now involves people; specifically people like me. This is a deep wound you’ve created and most likely will deny. And I don’t want to believe it either. But your actions and words are like cards on the table; I see your real hand and in this game, nobody wins. So please, try to understand what I am saying to you. I love you. I want you to be a part of my life. But you’ve proven to me that you hate me, you hate people who are like me, and that you want us beaten, arrested, deported and dead.

So I’m writing you this letter. Please don’t do this. We loved each other, or at least I thought we did. And I’m willing to keep trying. My hands and heart are open to you. Please turn away from your hate. Please, my friend, my family, my beloved: will you not stand on the side of love with me?

I pray we can learn how to love each other again. Amen.

First, they came for the immigrants,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an immigrant.
Then they came for the Muslims,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Muslim.
Then they came for people who were Queer,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t Queer.
Then they came for the people of color,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a person of color.
Then they came for the protesters,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a protester.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me…
-inspired by the words of Martin Niemöller


Finding Life in Detention

(Finding Life in Detention was originally written for the BeZine, an online “e-zine” produced by the Bardo Group. Please check out the other amazing writing found in this and other issues of the BeZine!)

SEC Logo copyI’ve only been working as a chaplain with youth in detention for a month. I could have chosen a number of different seminarian internships; campus ministry, church administration, advocacy. But I chose chaplaincy on purpose because I felt a “call.” It is why I’m studying an MDiv; it’s why I stopped running away from ministry.

In this month I’ve heard stories of rape, assault, grand theft, vandalism and trafficking in narcotics. There is something fundamentally disturbing to hear the voice of a child talk about getting so drunk and high that carjacking an elderly woman sounded like a way to “have fun.” All this from the mouths of youths who should be worried about their SATs rather than their next court date. So I’ve been asked the question, “How do you do this?” My answer is, “Because my faith demands it of me.”

fhouseAs a Unitarian Universalist, I believe that salvation is IN my life. My faith as I choose it requires me to work towards the inherent worth and dignity of all people and all creation, not for heavenly reward but for humanity. Which means pushing myself to be in places and meet with people which make me uncomfortable. To speak truth to power. To give witness. To expand beloved community. To be where the Spirit of life needs me to be.

Yes, it is hard to sit in active listening, asking questions, attempting to sift through the psychic refuse to find the innocent child underneath. But let me be clear; there is an innocent child underneath! Because I have also heard these same children’s voices ask for mercy, beg for forgiveness and plead for a fifth, sixth or seventh chance to turn away from the paths well worn by their incarcerated fathers and addicted mothers and economically and educationally depressed neighborhoods. These children’s eyes reflect back at me; “Help me! Heal me! Love me! Save me!” And my faith and my humanity will not let me say “no!”

seedEven though a minister’s trade is in miracles, I expect none here. My ministry is to listen. To be present. To plant seeds of hope. To challenge my world to change for the sake of it’s children. And to push and pull with all my might to bend that arc of history just a little bit further toward justice. It is in this hard work that I find the Spirit of life seeking reconciliation and my own salvation.

In this way, working with youth who are incarcerated is life giving! It reminds me of who I should be. It wakes me up from the soma of my off-white middle class American social location. The work allows me to be so filled with gratitude for my family and baby boy that I have to respond in thanksgiving. And because I did very little to deserve my blessings and privilege, I must pay it forward. Which is where I am confronted by mystery and miracle! The more I give, the more I find that I am being transformed by these youth into a better human being.

I’m not good at radical love.

(I’m not good at radical love first appeared on the blog Loved for Who You ArePlease visit them for more stories on living and practicing radical love!)

training wheelsI’m not good at radical love. Scratch that. I don’t think radical love is something I can be good or bad at. It’s something I need to learn. Not to be confused with the radically easy love, such as my affection for my friends and family with jobs, education, well-read opinions and good taste in beer. I love a lot of people who are safe, comfortable and encouraging. I support them and they support me, without judgement or hesitation. This is love on training wheels and at close to 40 years old it’s time for me to grow up.

In my experiences of volunteer work in Romania and Mexico and the United States, I’ve learned that for love to be radical it can’t discriminate; it “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor 13: 7) and not just for people who are easy to love. If I truly want a just and peaceful world, radical love is required for the homeless man who hits me up for cash every time I go to Whole Foods for my organically grown and fair trade sourced bread. Or the mentally ill woman on the bus who smells horrible because she hasn’t showered in weeks and wants to talk to me about how the police have ruined her life. Or the fundamentalist Christian at the gay pride festival holding a sign that says “Burn In Hell.” Or the drunk guy who lives under the bridge in my neighborhood. Or the African American woman who comes into my office because she saw the sign outside that reads “Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center” and thinks that we have money to give her so she can turn the lights back on for her three kids in her studio apartment. I need to learn how to love the hard way; to grow out of my comfort zone to embrace people who need love the most.

69766d03f350498d6f6b73b525dcf2c0Radically hard love is the price I pay for being a father. My first child will be born around Christmas this year. My partner and I didn’t know if we could conceive. Now a baby is around the corner and the world is suddenly smaller because it is filled with baby-potential. And just like I would hate to have somebody come over with a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and dog hair everywhere, I am ashamed at the state of my world for which responsibility will fall on my child. The only way my son/daughter is going to succeed where my generation has failed is if I can teach them radically hard love, and I can’t teach something I haven’t experienced.

Radically hard love is the price I pay for faith. My Unitarian Universalist church demands radically hard love. Its seven principles challenge me to move beyond my safe relationships into the scary realm of solidarity with people on the margins of society. If I truly believe in “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” and “justice, equity and compassion in human relations” than I have to act for peace and justice in the world for every person, not just the easy ones. Otherwise the principles of my faith are just more words in a meaningless creed. Working at my non-profit I’m confronted with child trafficking in cocoa supply chains, human slavery involved in electronics manufacturing, mass migration due to global climate change, and what seems like a world going to hell in a hand-basket. It’s easy to succumb to compassion fatigue because everything is urgent and one man can only do so much. The only way I recharge is by going to church in solidarity with other peacemakers. But if I’m going to be honest and effective in my spiritual community, I have to learn radically hard love.

vocationRadically hard love is the price I pay for vocation. Years ago I had this crazy notion that I may be called to serve in some kind of ministry. Now that I’m studying at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, I am learning skills that help me connect with the prisoner, the beggar, the homeless, the gentile, the mentally ill, the foreigner and the outsider. There is a drive somewhere inside my head and heart (and maybe spirit?) that demands I overcome my unease and fear of people who may ask for more than I am comfortable in giving because these are the people who need radical love the most. If I’m going to true to this mysterious call to Vocation, in order to be true to myself, I have to learn radically hard love.

Because of my commitments to my children, faith and self, it’s time for me to stretch beyond the safe walls of my middle class life. I need to put radically hard love into practice in order to be the father, neighbor and minister I feel called to be, taking risks with my heart by connecting it to people who need it most. That being a Unitarian Universalist comes with a responsibility to creation and neighbor that mirrors the responsibility I learned as a child in bible class:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

lovewithoutexceptionssquare-500x500Now that I’m an adult, I’m no longer looking for salvation or eternal life but I can hear the wisdom in this story; that the whole world is my neighbor and the whole world needs merciful acts of radical love.

(Taking) A moment to thank somebody…

Day 18: Activate a Social Network Thank a Person for Being Awesome

This is part of the UU Blogging Workshops’s Zero to Hero Series

Today’s assignment: If you’re already active on a social network, set up Publicize and link the account to your blog, and/or create a strategy for how you’ll use it.

Note: I am already WAY too connected via social networking sites. My blog is already connected to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube. I’ve been told if I join Pinterest, I will disintegrate like Flynn in Tron.

So instead, I will give a quick shout out to Inga, the woman who was in charge of the self-checkout isle at the QFC grocery store in the Northgate neighborhood in Seattle. Tonight I attended a community council meeting for my neighborhood, Victory Heights. Afterwards, I drove over to the store to pick up some surprise chocolate cake for the wifey.

I grab the cake, some bagels, and 2 for 1 Angus steaks! At the self-checkout isle, low and behold, I had forgotten my shopping bag! You see, in Seattle you have to bring your own reusable bag because there’s a plastic bag ban. I support this. However, at this moment I have no bag in which to put my Angus steak and chocolate cake.

I ask the checker on duty (Inga) if I can run out to my car really quick to grab a bag. (We keep about 10 of them in the car just in case) She laughed and said ok. So I run outside really quick, grab my bag, and run inside only to find that Inga had rung up my items for me… in the self checkout! It was one of those moments where a person took a couple minutes out of their day to do something small, meaningful and unexpected.

It wasn’t her job, but she did something nice for me. A complete stranger. She is awesomesause! So I asked her manager for a customer input card and let her know how appreciative I was of such a gesture of kindness. I hope she gets employee of the month, or at least a raise or something.

Which reminds me that I need to take advantage of more opportunities to do something nice for complete strangers. I need to pay it forward.

So how about you? Has anybody ever gone out of their way to do something nice for you without even knowing you? Let me know!

Responding to Insanity: Thoughts on the Sandy Hook Tragedy

griefI am not a psychologist, a priest, a teacher or a parent. I am not an expert in anything. When I first heard about the recent horror in Newtown, Connecticut, I responded with the only thing I really have experience in: being human.

I sat in traffic dumbfounded.
I prayed for the victims and their families.
I cried.

That’s all I really could do.

whyMy experience of true disaster is limited. By human standards, I’ve lived a sheltered, safe and secure life. Natural or man made disasters have never touched me directly. My only experience of anything even close to what happened on the east coast on Friday, December 14th is either academic or second hand.

Listening to the report on NPR, I found myself at a loss. I wanted to say something about the shooting. I wanted to do something that would help. But I didn’t have the words. I didn’t feel I had the right. I was on the other side of the country sitting in my office watching events unfold.

I posted a message on Facebook.

xl_typingThe world gives us horrific acts of violence and tragedy every day. It is always shocking and senseless to me. My heart, thoughts and prayers are with the community and families of Newtown. Do not give in to revenge, hate, fear or despair! Make every act and moment of life one that brings hope, joy, forgiveness and peace. It is the only way we will ever overcome this kind of evil.”

Having worked for news media in past, I knew what was coming. Pundits, talking heads, policy debates, anti-gun and pro-gun advocates, and a review of the event. Over. And over. And over.

05-30-argumentI expected the social media response. I was not the only one who was driven to say something. My feeds were filled with the thoughts and opinions of friends, family members, and acquaintances. Posts were shared and forwarded; memes of all varieties became patchwork quilts of opinion.

What I didn’t expect was the amount of hate. I suppose there was already blood in the water. It makes sense that cannibalism followed.

People began to make statements about violence, or gun control, or god in school, or mental health, or politics, or revenge. Those that disagreed reacted immediately. There was arguing, ad hominem attacks, and unfriending. The intellectual part of me understood points on all sides, even if I didn’t agree with some of them. The emotional part of me didn’t give a shit.

forgiveness26 people are dead. 20 of them children.

Nothing will bring those lives back. Nothing will ever fill the void left in Newtown, Connecticut. All our vitriol does is make those deaths even more painful.

We have a right to be angry.
We have a need to be scared.
But let’s bury our dead first.

Let’s mourn as a community and nation. Let’s come together to remember lives lost too soon. Let’s hold our brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, and let them know that we’re here. We understand. We hurt. We’re human. Let’s begin the healing process.

Then maybe we can create some real change that will help move us away from insanity and closer to our shared humanity.

A case for charity.

Give a little, get a little.

Charity. Noun: The voluntary giving of help, typically money, to those in need. Help or money given in this way.

My parents did a good job of raising me to be a man of charity; it was through action rather than words. Following their example, I also give out of my excess (time, money, food) to those who need it. I do it without fanfare and not because of some heavenly reward. I just believe generosity is the right thing to do. I want the society I live in to be a “pay it forward” society. I also do it because people do it for me all the time.

to all you charitable people…

Over the last week, no fewer than 4 people have shown me acts of charity. Two gave me car rides home (without me asking), one bought me coffee, and another let me out of work early. These are small, almost insignificant acts. But they were done spontaneously, which is what makes the difference. These were random acts of kindness that made my life a little easier, brighter, and in the case of car rides home, significantly less wet.

However, charity has become a dirty word in society. People on the margins are called “charity cases” and people who give charity “bleeding hearts.” I can understand being disillusioned. A lot of people are selfish, rude and downright ungrateful. It’s always easier to blame people for needing charity, just ask Mitt RomneyI say be charitable to them anyways.

nobody likes being the weakest link…

An action that makes another person’s life easier should be a good thing. Especially if it was done spontaneously with no recompense required. I believe charity’s negative connotation happened when we started to equate charity with weakness. People who need it are weak. People who give it are weak. If I learned anything as an American, it’s that our culture despises all forms of weakness; physical, psychological, and emotional. We have a perspective that says “if you can’t help yourself, why should I help you?” This wasn’t always the case.

why can’t we have posters like this anymore?

For my parents, charity was a religious and civic duty. For my grandparents, it was a way of life. It was American to help your fellow citizen and to make sacrifices for community and country. It seemed that our objective in the past was to raise up those who were weak, so they could be strong. Now I feel that many Americans look with disdain on “weakness.” I believe this happened slowly as consumerism and materialism became more prominent as a judge of success, and success became equal to goodness. Accumulation of wealth became more important than accumulation of relationships; we forgot how important charity was to our cultural ethic. It helped connect us to the rest of our community, reminding us that we are only as good as our weakest friend.

true story

Paying it forward reminds me not to give into selfishness. People in my life are constantly doing good works for me. Instead of paying them back, I pass their kindness on. My hope is that by making another person’s day a little better, I set in motion a chain of events that will make a whole bunch of other people’s day better. It may be a naive belief, but I’ve seen it in action. This is why charity is not weakness; it is a conduit of moving people to become strong.