You still have the power. Use it.


Discouraged? Outraged? Some of both? Did the voices of powerful white men mocking, marginalizing and attacking a courageous woman make you sick and despondent?

Do you feel powerless against the deeply entrenched male privilege that’s on display?

Don’t give into that feeling. You have the power to change the world — more than enough. Just look at how much it’s changing even now.

One of the truest lessons of our greatest stories – including the gospels – is that just because your power doesn’t work this time, that doesn’t mean it’s not still there and capable of changing the world the next time.

When I visited the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis earlier this year, I was deeply touched and inspired by how one woman’s brave decision changed everything.

One woman makes a difference

Many times, Rosa Parks had obeyed the man’s directive to move to the back of the bus, feeling powerless against a system of white supremacy. But one time – this time – she said no. Shaking inside with fear, she stood up to the powerful white man driving the bus.

He won this round.  She was arrested. Her powerful “no” didn’t change the world that day, or the next. But over days and years, it transformed her society in ways she never imagined.

One woman has made a difference, and she will again. That’s not just our history, but our faith.

One account of the Jesus story begins with a fearful young woman deciding all by herself whether the story would even happen. She lived in a male-dominated society. Men reserved all important decisions for themselves. Women were treated more as property than persons in significant ways, just like today.

But the angel chooses to visit not a man, but this young woman whose courageous decision will embody God’s love and justice more fully in the world. The powerful will be knocked from their thrones, the lowly will be exalted and the hungry will be fed.

Let it be, she says.

Let us do the same.

Along the road, remember that you are never alone. Many people are committed to the proposition that we are all God’s children and must be treated that way in all respects.

The times are changing

And never forget that God is working with us too, which means that we shall overcome some day. God is always on the side of the oppressed, never on the side of the oppressor.

God himself stands with every man who tells his story of church abuse, never with the church leaders who mock and dismiss him.

God herself stands with every woman who tells her story of abuse by powerful men, never with the abusers who mock and deride her.

God supports those trying to get at the truth, never those who are trying to ignore the truth and keep their privilege in place.

Look at how far God has brought us already.

Rosa Parks never imagined we’d have a black president a half-century after she said “no” to the white driver on the bus.

Church leaders never expected that those whom they abused in private would boldly march into their temples and overturn the tables of power, making sure they don’t sweep the truth under the sanctuary carpet yet again.

Powerful men from Hollywood to Washington never thought they would have to pay any price whatsoever for their abusive behavior. But some already have. More will in days to come.

The times, they are changing. The moral arc is bending. God is making all things new.

No going backward

The angry voices and the disgusting mockery by powerful men are an unmistakable sign. They sense their white, male privilege is beginning to slip from their grasp. Their world is changing – they recognize it, they feel threatened by it.

And there’s no going back. They can slow the change, but they can’t stop it.

So, push on. Don’t despair. Don’t let one day’s events distract from the bigger picture. Big changes never happen quickly or easily.

You still have your power to change the world. Keep using it. Change is already here.

When God’s inside the hashtag

# Me Too

When the “Me Too” movement began, one of my long-time friends shared the hashtag on her social media page. She’d never mentioned her experience. I sent her a supportive note.

When we next met, she told me about her initial reluctance to go public for many reasons. Ultimately, she was swayed by the courage of other women. She hoped her hashtag would make a difference somehow.

So many women and men are speaking up about the sexual abuse they’ve encountered, knowing there will be a push-back in many cases – powerful men will dismiss them, church leaders will vilify them, people with agendas will attack them on social media.

Their courage is slowly changing how our society views sexual abuse and those who survive such abuse. The powerful are being held accountable – some, at least. A public conversation has started. New standards are being fashioned. Those who speak up are feeling empowered, getting justice and protecting others from abuse.

#MeToo is healing, holy work. God is inside every hashtag.

There’s another side to the story, of course. Powerful men – religious men, political men, corporate men – have dug in and resisted the divine quest for justice and healing.

And that puts each of us in position to decide where we stand, especially when people masquerading as religious leaders try to preserve the status quo.

Healing, holy work

We’ve seen it in the Catholic church. Those who were abused came forward and were essentially abused again by clergy who discounted and even shamed them. Working with God, they’ve finally brought the clergy to a moment of accountability and their church to a moment of reckoning.

The next step is to challenge the church’s broken, insular leadership structure that enabled and supported the abuse, even as clergy try to preserve it. God is working with the abuse survivors to bring about a reformation and a transformation.

In the past two weeks, we’ve seen the spectacle of Evangelical leaders insisting that a woman’s word about attempted rape doesn’t even matter – as though it doesn’t matter to God.

Many Evangelical leaders insist we should ignore a courageous woman’s “Me Too.” Franklin Graham said in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network that Christine Blasey Ford’s account of fighting off rape doesn’t amount to sexual assault and isn’t relevant to any discussion.

It’s the good-old-boys’ line of defense: Shush the woman, support the man, sweep another horrific story of abuse beneath the sanctuary carpet to join the mountain of dirt already there. Pretend it didn’t happen. Move on.

A rejection of God herself

It’s that attitude which must be challenged and changed. Sexual abuse will continue so long as it gets the wink and nod of religious and social and political leaders.

That attitude must be called out for what it is: a rejection of God herself.

It’s a rejection of God who always sides with the oppressed and never with the oppressor, sexual or otherwise.

It’s a rejection of God who wants to get at the truth in every situation and never settles for silence or lies in the face of wrongdoing.

It’s a rejection of God who partners with women and men to challenge the male domination that has justified and enabled such evil things throughout human history.

It’s a rejection of God who always holds the hand of a survivor as they tell their story and never sides with those who try to sweep their story under the carpet.

It’s a rejection of God who says in solidarity: #MeToo.

The nest that’s never empty

momma marlon

A mourning dove built a nest in front of the press box at Great American Ball Park a few summers ago. We watched daily as the bird – dubbed Marlon after one of the players – raised two babies in front of us.

Marlon and the babies took flight during a long Reds’ road trip. When we returned to the press box for the next home game, we saw the empty nest and felt sad.

Something about an empty nest touches us. A place that was so full of life and sound is now vacant and quiet.

One thing about nests: They haven’t completely fulfilled their purpose until they’re empty.

Another thing about nests: They’re never actually empty.

Our modern culture has redefined nesting to very limited terms. When children grow and go out into the world, we call the parents empty-nesters. We think of family as a small thing – only those who share a house.

Family is so much more. A nest is so much bigger.

People once understood our interconnectedness. It takes a village to raise children and build communities where life and healing and love are the shared values.

In the deepest sense, your children are my children, just as mine are yours. We experience this in so many ways that it ought to be obvious.

Many people parent us

For example, I have a friend whose son loves basketball and neglected his studies in grade school, despite his parent’s admonitions. When the son went to high school and made the freshman basketball team, his grades went up appreciably.

The father was delighted and asked the son what had inspired him to study harder. The son said his coach told them that while basketball was fun, studies mattered more. It sunk in.

You can imagine the father’s reaction! He had mixed feelings. On one hand, he was delighted that the message finally got through. On the other, he wondered why the son had ignored it for so long until some other adult conveyed it.

All of us block out our parents to some degree as we’re growing up – it’s part of the process. That’s why it’s important for all of us to share the parenting role. Each of us has many adults who come into our lives and teach us what we need to know.

Each of us has the ability – and the responsibility — to influence and nurture the children of the world.

That was the core of Mister Rogers’ message. He recognized every child as his own, and he responded to each one with the same compassion that he accorded his two sons.

This Presbyterian minister spent his life reminding each of us that we’re a beautiful and beloved child of God — just as we are – and we deserve to be loved that way by everyone, especially when we’re in a difficult time.

He touched children’s lives through television and left a deep and lasting impact. The stories are touching — I highly recommend the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Every child is mine

We saw the same spirit at work in the cave rescue in Thailand. Brave divers did extraordinarily dangerous things to save 12 trapped boys and their coach – one sacrificed his life for them.

The rescuers put themselves at risk for children they’d never met. They responded out of a heart that regarded these children as their own.

Sadly, we’ve seen a very different response in many people to the terrified children separated from parents at the border. So many people have said: These aren’t my children, their parents are to blame, they deserve the horrible things happening to them.

Our hearts are lifeless – and our faith meaningless – if we can’t identify with such a child or such a parent and feel compassion. We’re lost if we don’t recognize that each child in the world is ours, too, regardless of their circumstances.

We need to be remind ourselves that our family extends way beyond our front door. Every child is ours. The nest is big and brimming with life. There are many mouths to feed and lessons for all of us to teach.

Serving without exception


Self-described Christians are refusing to serve gay couples. The president’s spokeswoman was denied service by a restaurant owner with deeply held beliefs.

Our society is fraying. The refuse-to-serve mentality is spreading, leading us to a dark place.

As Gandhi taught, an eye for an eye and soon the whole world is blind.

We don’t have to continue down this road blindly. We can light another way. But if we want to be that light, we can’t reject, shun or demean anyone.

Instead, We must love, serve and respect everyone. Each of us has many such opportunities each day.

Last weekend, my church participated in the local Pride Parade. As we waited for the march to begin, a man walked through the crowd carrying a sign that said, “Jesus Is Coming.” He told us we were horrific sinners doomed to burn in hell.

We had to decide how to respond. Do we ignore him? Argue with him? We chose to offer kindness. We smiled, said hello and offered him a bottle of water. He was free to turn it down, but he graciously accepted it.

We didn’t attack his views but respectfully explained ours – Jesus is already here, calling us to love everyone. We wished the man a blessed day as he went on his way.

Serving others doesn’t mean endorsing their beliefs; it’s recognizing and respecting them as a child of God. To refuse service is to deny the image of God within each of us.

There are many ways to advocate for our beliefs. Demeaning others is not one of them.

Faith is service

Many self-described Christians argue that living their values means shunning those who believe differently. It’s a dishonest claim. If love is your core value, then every act of kindness and service is an expression of faith, not a rejection of it.

Sacrificial service is the heart of God’s value system. It’s the only way out of our current darkness.

What’s happening today isn’t new. Sadly, it’s been the norm in our society. Over the centuries, many Christians have refused to love and serve black people and Native American people and many others – including other Christians — whom they deemed inferior.

In Jesus’ time and place, many religious people also shunned those who lived and believed differently, insisting that any interaction with them amounted to participating in their impurity and their sin.

Jesus took direct aim on that attitude.

He befriended the marginalized and the shunned, pushing back hard against the religious people who objected. He ate with those whom others labeled great sinners.

To Jesus, a lack of love was the only sin. He understood that simply telling someone to change means nothing; we must be a source of the unconditional love that makes change possible.

And when the religious leaders objected to all of this, he told them to worry more about the plank in their own eye — take a good look at yourself and drop that stone from your hand.

Lack of love is the only sin

Instead, be like the Samaritan in the parable, the shunned person who gets it right because he loves and serves. Don’t be like the religious people who walk past with their noses in the air.

Be a source of love.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. That’s the rule we must apply.

We need to remember that shunning doesn’t help anyone grow or change. Only love can do that.

Refusing service doesn’t fulfill our faith. Only love can do that.

We can’t vanquish darkness by bringing more darkness into the world. Only love can do that.

That is the way, the truth and the light that can lead us to a better place.

Grams’ lesson in persistent love

Grams Hawaii

I was dusting off my annual tribute-to-Grams blog last night when, out of the blue, one of my siblings shared this photo of her on a trip to Hawaii long ago. The image and the coincidence made me smile. These things happen with Grams. She’s persistently present, even now.

We call her Grams, though her name is Ann. Her birthday is today, so everyone in the family will think of her, raise a coffee cup or glass in her honor, and smile. She’s always had a way of making us smile.

She’s made us smile simply by being her funny, feisty, life-loving self, and that’s such a great gift – showing others what it means to have the courage to be.

She’s taught us many important things, too, such as how to appreciate a really good cup of coffee and how to make pierogi from scratch in such a way that they won’t fall apart when you cook them.

And persistence – she’s taught us about persistence.

The courage to be

Her husband died of cancer when they had three young daughters. She had many tough choices to make. Friends and relatives told her to find another husband to support her – that’s what women did back then.

Uh-uh, not Grams. Instead, she found a babysitter and went to work at a business where women weren’t exactly welcomed.

She heard the men’s comments but she didn’t care what they thought – she had a family to support! She did it her way, raising her daughters and building a family that grew with each wedding and each birth.

When I was young, my family went through difficult years. There were moments when Grams would pull me tight and reassure me: “Don’t worry, Joey. It’s going to be all right.” She meant it, and so I believed her. She turned out to be right.

She liked to say that life is too short, so don’t shortchange yourself. Don’t waste it. Keep at it. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated. And when you care about someone, make sure they know it.

Be persistent about life and love.

And she was persistent, all right! When I was away at college and would visit home for a weekend, Grams always called to see how I was doing. She’d invite me over for a cup of coffee. Sadly, I was a busy young person and often turned her down because of plans with friends. She said that was OK. She never sounded disappointed. She just seemed glad that we had talked.

How cool is that?

Grams was persistent, but not insistent. She taught me that important distinction. Love never insists, it just offers, again and again.

Thankfully, I got many more chances to spend time with Grams. We’d get together to celebrate special occasions or just hobnob about old times. No matter what we were doing, she made us know that she was happy to see us. Without even saying it, she reminded us that we were loved.

Grams died in her apartment from a heart attack years ago. As I was driving home from her funeral, I thought about how incredibly blessed I’ve been to have her in my life. And in the years since, there have been many not-so-subtle reminders that she’s still an important part of it.

Persistent presence

Grams occasionally shows up in dreams – mine and other family members’ — with needed guidance. For instance, my sister was taking a nap one afternoon because she’d been up all night with her two sick kids, and Grams showed up in the dream and told her to go pay attention to our mom. My sister knew not to discount a dream with Grams, so she called my brother and they got to my mom’s apartment just as she was having a stroke. It saved her life.

Pretty freaky, huh? But not surprising at all. Not if you know Grams.

Many people have shared similar stories about loved ones showing up in unexpected ways, providing reminders that they’re still dear and not so departed. We don’t understand how it all works exactly, but we know there’s something to it that’s beyond our comprehension.

There’s a line in one of Paul’s letters that describes God’s love as so powerful that nothing can separate us from it, not even death. That’s how love works – it recognizes no barriers or boundaries. I also believe that we can never be separated from the people in our lives who love us so powerfully.

Persistent love would never let a small thing like death get in its way.

Redwood cones and subversive smallness

redwood cone2

The redwood’s immense size grabs your attention – it’s like no other tree. When you notice one of its cones on the ground, you’re struck by its size, too.

The cones are barely an inch long. From such a small, scruffy container grows the biggest of trees, stretching their limbs 300 feet into the heavens.

Shouldn’t something so stunning emerge from something equally impressive? Shouldn’t the immense tree’s starting point be supersized as well?

Nope. The tiny cone reminds us: That’s not how life works. That’s not how God works.

We are so enamored with big things – big trees, big moments, big events – that we overlook a universal truth: Everything and everyone is infinitely tiny at the core. And it’s there that everything important happens.

Life’s defining trait is smallness.

Infinitely small lines

The universe is comprised of molecules held together by divine glue. Everyone and everything exists at an atomic level. We humans begin as two cells that unite and grow into a collection of many more microscopic cells.

The blueprint of life is drawn with infinitely small lines.

Our lives follow that pattern, too. Many small, seemingly insignificant moments connect and build upon each other, forming something much larger.

We choose what we do with each moment, and our choices matter. We make things better or worse.  Small acts of kindness and courage can multiply and change so much.

Each of those acts is good and worthwhile in and of itself – it brings a little more love into the world. But some of those small acts will bring changes in ways we never envisioned.

For instance, Rosa Parks never imagined that her one small act – refusing to change a bus seat – would spark a movement that would dramatically change her entire society. She just thought she was doing the right thing in the moment.

Most “big” things in human history happen this way. They’re the accumulation of many small acts and decisions that reach a tipping point.

Everything starts at the cellular level in our world, our societies and ourselves. That’s how the moral arc of the universe bends – not with one great pull, but with millions of tiny tugs that redirect it over time.

And we never know which of our small acts will have the biggest impact, just as the redwood never knows which of its countless cones will produce the next amazing tree.

Subversively small

Each redwood produces millions of seeds during its lifetime, spreading them throughout the forest and beyond. Most won’t take root, but enough will produce new trees to keep the forest growing and changing.

Same with us.

We never know which of our small acts will take root in someone. We never know which of our simple daily gestures will change something in a profound way.

So, we do as much as we can. Like the redwoods, we spread our love and compassion all around.

That’s how God works. As author Samir Selmanovic puts it, “God is subversively small.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu witnessed God at work during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He watched big change come from small acts by ordinary people.

His advice: “Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good, put together, that overwhelm the world.”

The tiniest places and the humblest hearts are divine workshops. That’s how God gets things done – accomplishing grand things, little by little.

Redwoods, street corners and sacred spaces

Cathedral Grove.jpg

Last week, Gloria and I hiked Muir Woods, a forest of redwoods nestled in a quiet valley north of downtown San Francisco. The giant trees – some have lived for more than a thousand years — stretch 250 feet into the sky.

One of the most famous stands of redwoods is known as Cathedral Grove, a space so breathtaking that you can’t help but sense the Creator’s presence.

A sign asks visitors to “enter quietly.” Most people talk in subdued voice and walk through the area with a sense of reverence, treating it as a sacred place.

We know instinctively when we’re standing on holy ground.

A day later, we visited Golden Gate Park and ate lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant in the busy city. We encountered people of all ages, races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and religious affiliations.

We heard more than a half-dozen languages spoken. We watched people zoom past on bicycles, skateboards and scooters – it reminded me of a scene from a Dr. Seuss book. People exchanged smiles and kind words as they waited on a street corner for the light to change.

The same spirit that blew through the sacred woods was blowing through this place as well. This, too, is a holy place.

Not everyone sees it this way, of course. Our society is sharply divided over how we view the world and each other.

Sacred places

Take the redwoods, for instance. Some people walk among them, feel God’s presence, and intuitively understand our responsibility to be caretakers of creation. Others look at the redwoods and see nothing more than a chance for financial gain.

Cut them down, pave paradise, put up a parking lot and charge exorbitant hourly rates. Who needs trees when you can make money?

Likewise, some people are awestruck by the gorgeous and divine diversity within humanity – different faces, different voices, different customs. Others are frightened by differences and want to create a more homogeneous society in which people look how they look, talk how they talk, and believe how they believe.

Yet others see the diversity among us as a means of dividing and exploiting us. They know from experience that they can gain influence and control when we’re busy walling ourselves off from one another.

A people divided is easily exploited.

We hear this debate conducted daily. It’s easy to get caught up in it and make the mistake of failing to see what’s right in front of us — right there in the redwood grove and also right there on the street corner, reminding us of who we are.

Divided and exploited

As we sat at the Mediterranean restaurant, we watched people approach the corner and pause, waiting for the light to change. During the brief delay, others would join them and form a crowd. For a minute, each person became part of a diverse group that was more beautiful than them alone.

The traffic light would change and the group would cross the street safely together. Everyone then headed off in their own direction, off to the next thing they needed to do in their daily life.

Off to join yet another group, and then another _ even as we follow our own course, none of us ever travels alone.

Our lives always intersect with so many others and depend upon one another. We’re animated and united by the same Spirit that blows through those giant redwoods, none of which lives by themselves, either.

We occupy this holy space together – God’s cathedral. Everyone has a place within it. Everything is sacred.

The appropriate response? Deep reverence, determined love and an outstretched hand.