Tyre Nichols

I’m glad for the rapid response of the DA, but I wonder if they would have been as quick if the cops had been white.

Calls for defunding the police may follow, but most community organizers understand there is a role for professionals trained in public safety. The role includes muscle. Muscle, however, doesn’t require deadly force. It means moving people out of harm’s danger – either from other people and for themselves.

The mistake that gets made is that the use of muscle can’t be separated from emotional intelligence. It cannot only be from the power of a gun.

Muscle is not fighting – this is also a mistake. Even the work of subduing the violent is about diminishing emotional energy. It requires recognition that even those who may be involved in illegal activity have their own emotional instincts, and that their life also has intrinsic value. It requires a steady hand and adaptability.

Let justice be done.

Before Reading a Church Management Text

The one true word is Jesus Christ. 

Because of his faith, the work of the church matters. 

The church proclaims the faith of Jesus Christ, a Palestinian Jew who was risen from the dead, trusting the witnesses of the apostles and the confession of the saints. In our weekly gathering, we bring our own bodies, transformed by that same faith, before one another, God, sharing our lives with one another.

Without this, management books don’t matter. 

The Church, as an institution or firm or body, forms and disciplines people living into the faith. Such persons are imperfect and come from distinct walks of life. They don’t always know what they are doing. They bring heavy burdens to the table. They can be malformed by abusive institutions that stunt our emotional maturity. They may be suspicious also of anything too organized or that requires commitment. Yet, even in in a world that feels beyond our control, we preach about Jesus Christ and explore the kind of life his faith requires. We claim even the broken and lost can be capable of brilliant things.

Therefore, when it comes to the ordained leadership, it’s an obvious and straightforward expectation that clergy should know the story through disciplines each academic and practical.  Episcopal clergy will not merely be satisfied with reading the Bible as a self-interpreting document, but also read in its historical context. They will also reimagine the story through asking questions and opening new possibilities in the world, both personal and social. They engage the text as handled down, through a tradition, in the various ways it’s been offered.

This will mean priests take the atonement seriously. When I say this, it’s in the thinnest sense possible: The death and life of Jesus matters. And for this reason priests share Jesus’ faith in God, known through lives changed and through the recollections of trustworthy witnesses, his apostles. We firmly believe The Truth will set you free, and love one another, for He is raised from the dead. God wins over the forces that would crush the spirit. Have hope that it does.  It does not need to be more complicated than this. 

A Christian priest believes in a Trinitarian God. I do not have any desire to insist, however, that a priest must adhere to elevating any particular person in the Trinity or must affirm Greek categories of divine identity. We assert that the trinity is the accurate description of God, and Jesus is a sign of God’s presence, if not THE sign, and the only one needed, for simplicity’s sake. That said, we can also admit there is no reason to be triumphalist or snooty about it. There is no zero sum game that says just because you’ve got something right, others don’t in their own way.

If the priest can’t preach Jesus with this confidence, then there are other ministries available to them. I submit, not all Christians must believe anything the church teaches. Their role is to live into their baptism as best as they are able.  But ordination rightfully conveys some expectations.  “I believe so that they don’t have to,” one seasoned priest wryly said to me.  His job was to make the argument through a life and through his word.

“Make me feel that you believe the words you say” a young Catholic Christian once wrote. That’s a reasonable lesson for a priest to remember. The laity are allowed to have their convictions, even as we hope that God tenaciously wants us to know and bring us to know him more deeply.  So before the basics of managing a church, say I believe in one God…

Leaving behind Margaret Sanger

Recently, the president of Planned Parenthood penned a letter reconsidering its founder, Margaret Sanger. Sanger was always a a lightning rod, and remains so decades after her death. It is a testimony to her memory that even now she remains such a polarizing figure.

Alexis McGill Johnson, as the CEO of the national brand, has the task of balancing the relationship of race and reproductive rights with Sanger’s place within that conversation. It should be no surprise that this discussion has been happening internally for a long time, with Sanger being a foil for radicals who distrusted the paternalistic history of Planned Parenthood, and religious anti-abortion activists who wanted to break away black conservatives from the reproductive justice movement. Framing Planned Parenthood as the perpetuator of genocide has proven to be an effective weapon, despite its political provenance and outright fabrication. 

The people who build institutions from scratch are rarely saints. They are not respecters of convention. They are often poor managers. Their work makes some people uncomfortable, and others they may hurt. They do not often anticipate future generations, while building the world they inhabit.  They are mythologies, and under scrutiny they often become uncomfortably human. 

Sanger was iconoclastic for many reasons. She worked with black doctors and intellectuals. She challenged powerful institutions. She encouraged white supremacists to have smaller families. She believed in that dangerous idea of “social improvement,” now revealed to be a <ahem> – problematic – sentiment, in a time where the relationship between nature and nurture was even more poorly understood. Yet, she connected women’s independence, poverty, and motherhood in a way that assumed poverty made society worse. And she had a minor, tangential, role in the eugenics movement. Who knows what she would say about the burgeoning field of epigenetics.

Still, she was adaptable in her leadership, collaborated with other leaders regardless of race, and adjusted her approaches when necessary. And this DNA runs strong in Planned Parenthood. If anything, it is what has allowed it to survive longer than almost any other organization and pass from founder to leader to leader. While we should, and must, reject the philosophy of eugenics, we should be glad that her institutional competence has shown to be inheritable as the organization changes. Sanger herself could have imagined critiquing her own organization, and would have accepted a just critique, just as she critiqued those around her. 

Condemning Sanger is a justified political decision. It seeks to shield Planned Parenthood from false accusations concerning its roots, and does so with the honest acknowledgement that the conservative assassination by association of its founders reputation was, by and large, successful. We should acknowledge we lost that intellectual battle, and we need to fight first for providing care in all its forms in the communities who need a voice the most rather than defend our left flank. In the end, that she was not a racist doesn’t matter: enough people think she was. And in an era where personal authority takes precedence over academic accuracy, we need to redirect our efforts. Being an anti-racist while being an ablest, doesn’t help create freedom for women.

The letter does implicitly reaffirm how the enlightenment, liberalism, progressivism, even social democracy itself, were all tarnished by political calculations based on race. The poison of white supremacy runs through all of it. Sanger was certainly a part of those paternalistic movements that sought to incentivize social “improvement.” The only institution that was against eugenics (formally, at least) was, after all, the Roman Catholic church, Planned Parenthood’s perpetual foil.

I was on the board of Planned Parenthood for eight years, and the national Clergy Advisory Board for six. We all understood that her legacy was complicated. Nobody defended her ableism. And there was always an honest willingness to recognize that we were more than her.

I simply seek to point out that the reasons she remains a target are not simply because of her beliefs. She is moral baggage in a broader culture war, and a suitable scapegoat for the sins of white liberalism. And she’s dead. While she can’t talk back, I suspect she would have taken herself down from the pedestal she inhabited, if only to continue the work Planned Parenthood bravely continues to do. Just as Sanger herself made unpalatable choices to the current generation, we will do the same. We make our compromises on behalf of power, because power is what changes things.

She’s gone, anyway, and the work continues. Let her go.

She would probably agree.

Transfiguration 2021

In the story about the Transfiguration, Jesus and his friends climb to a mountaintop where he finds a couple other well known persons, prophets as it were, who welcome him. They start chatting about various prophetic things, like who God is, how the air is different up there, and why the Nazarenes keep losing at baseball.

His clothes, at a special moment, become startlingly white, whiter than even my recently dry-cleaned chef’s jacket, and Peter gets the idea to build a sukkah because of this remarkably Holy Event. The voice of God, and in other books of the gospel a dove, announce that Jesus is the Son of God, the beloved, the anointed one. A sukkah is kind of a special tent that keeps you safe when your regular abode has proven to be unreliable.

This is my son, the beloved, listen to him the gospel reports that God says. Two weeks ago, we read at the beginning of his ministry, “repent and believe in the Gospel.” And we’ll read again a few times.

At some point, Christians will have to explain why we should repent and why we should believe, and why does this faith stuff matter? Does it provide any kind of visible difference? We presume it does: when we talk of faith, we are not simply making intellectual assertion about our belief, but are also talking about trust, confidence, and inspiration. 

One assumption is that faith, or our trust, changes people. It is this faith helps us be open to our own transformation as well. We see a couple glimpses of what this looks like. The building of the sukkah, for example, is a way of building trust, a place of security. Jesus may not have needed it, but as a part of the parable it tells us something about the shape of Peter’s faith. He needed some security to experience the danger of holiness. 

The ability to be transformed, or to be open to transformation, arises often when one feels emotionally safe. I wonder if this is what Peter was trying to do in suggesting building a little tent.  

At the top of the mountain, furthermore, Jesus can see the grand view. Not just the crisis before him, not his immediate needs, but the long term plan. Now certainly it’s hard to consider the long term plan when you are worried about living or in survival mode. But at the top of the mountain is where Jesus is, and he can see the path that got him there, that he is part of the world, and part of a larger universe.  

Jesus had seen the struggle of people who were in pain, and then he could see how it all fit together. He climbed, he did the work; he remembered the prophets who came before; and he had a vista to see. 

Now the obvious challenges we face are physical, but the more painful ones are spiritual. The feeling of invisibility, of being ignored, of being discarded or expendable can lead individuals into addiction, depression, or rage. 

A psychologist tells a story of Bill, who had no pleasant memories of childhood. He’d grown up in foster care. He didn’t even know what his mother looked like. One family regularly beat him. But he said, the physical pain wasn’t as difficult as the feeling that nobody was responsible for him. That nobody cared for him.

Bill was a generous, kind and loving person, so the psychologist asked him, how did he learn to be patient and kind? It turns out that for two decades he’d been in a remarkably healthy and loving marriage. He chose a partner with whom he could have emotional safety. It was obvious to the psychologist he was very proud of his wife and took joy in who she was, as she did in him. 

Often men find their wive’s success to be threatening rather than reassuring. Instead, he had a real home in a partner who could provide him the healing he needed through offering a complete sort of love that allowed him to feel safe. Later he modeled his wife’s unselfish love through caring for his sick, biological parents.

This love can’t be commanded. We can’t just demand it from our partners. It’s not an intellectual project, or one that can be forced or demanded but it can be modeled. We can design a space to make it thrive. We can remove obstacles. And we begin by letting God love us

Where we are.

He lost his wife, however and he entered into a depression. But 

In a decade he met a priest who took spiritual healing seriously, and who had after a laying on of hands had reduced Bill’s back pain. 

Spiritual healing begins with empathy. Ritual healing, the liturgies, are expressions of a shared responsibility for pain, permission to express emotion, and a reverence of life. A circle of caring persons will lower blood pressure, relax pain, and even postpone death. This is the biology of love. It’s where the link between our experience of the natural and the supernatural become linked. Bill became inspired by healing and soon this became a part of his own ministry. 

He believed, even though he had never before been religious, that through the faith of Christ we can physically channel and transform this love. It lives in people like Mandela, King, and Gandhi, and has potential in each one of us.

Bill had primary loving relationships that allowed him to endure and transform his pain. That is what we seek in our personal life, our public life, and ideally in our collective life as human beings. The faith we have, the love we receive, visibly changes us, in part because it gives us the confidence to be genuinely inspired by caring; it helps us foster stronger communities through trust, while giving us enough humility to recognize there are mysteries we don’t understand. It helps us build charity, courage, and humility. 

I hope that as the pandemic subsides, we’ll be able to take the ways we’ve tried to stay connected virtually and see how both our physical and digital can enhance each other. This is, perhaps, our trek up the mountain, and perhaps once we’ve reached that moment of transformation we will also experience that inspiration that was bestowed upon Jesus, that we too are beloved, and in us He is well pleased.

for a More Perfect Union

My political feed is a relatively narrow broadband of American politics. Mostly people who share my political beliefs or otherwise keep their opinions to themselves. There’s some diversity between the intellectuals, the book markers, the activists, the ill-informed, and the peacekeepers. The peacekeepers are the ones who post supportive memes, cat videos, and gingerbread houses.

But these feeds are not organizing.  

How do we have a robust political and public life during the Pandemic? A such a life doesn’t have much to do with Facebook. It’s much simpler: it’s connecting with people to solve problems. 

It’s obvious that some do not want to solve problems, and it’s unlikely they can be forced to do so. Also, not everyone’s problem is everyone else’s. The problems of the county and city aren’t the same. And their relationship to the government isn’t the same. Some get offended if they are shown they do have a problem, and others enjoy watching others suffer. But enough people do want to identify the unnecessary obstacles that we face, and try to find ways to remove them.

I’m going to take some stock over who I know that has been really engaged in their local communities to address issues that are of public concern. One issue I find interesting is the dearth of reliable sources of information in parts of the country who feel excluded by the mainstream media. What sources establish both trust and truth? 

And the second is how we can build institutions worth believing in? 

I’m not sure of the answers, but I’d like to know more people who are trying to figure those questions out. 

Masters, Slaves and Sobriety

Years ago, a famous comedian joked about having an empty bank account. He noticed that that if you had no money, the bank would charge a fee. He observed that the less money you have, the more the bank charges. 

He would ask, “Ever been so broke that the bank charges you for not having enough money? The bank calls you and tells you “you have insufficient funds.”

You say, “yes. I know. That’s obvious to me.” His cadence indicated contempt on behalf the the bank. The response is a bewildered retort – I’m just doing the best I can. Of course I want more.  

Then he notes: If you have $20 in your bank, they will charge you $15. And now you have $5. And sometimes you can have negative money in your bank account. 

Even free things are out of reach!

And if you do have money, banks will pay you to bank with them. You get paid to leave your money with them.  

To anyone listening to the gospel this week, this story resonates. 

Some believe that the master is God. In such an interpretation, God gives us money or gifts we are responsible for and we should use them. If we don’t, we will get punished. 

But I suspect that it’s the slave who does nothing who really understands: this is a master who does not reap where he sows; he gathers where he does not scatter seed. He’s rich off of the work of others, and only the poorest one can tell him to his face how the system works. 

The servants invest, but they don’t get a return on their investment. There’s no indication they get anything besides more responsibility and hard work. They don’t even get the benefits of their labor. 

But Jesus says that God scatters seeds all over. He scatters on soil that is rocky, and fertile. He also rewards people who come late to the vineyard, paying them equal to the people who came at the beginning of the day.  God gives to people who don’t deserve their wealth. He is generous to a fault. 

And for Jesus, God is a God who forgives debts and gives food ahead of time. 

It’s not an easy message if you have power or money. It implies how easy it is to become satisfied with what we have, and yet also anxious about loss. We become perpetually busy for no reason, except manage this fear. We believe the master has our best intentions because we want to keep the status quo.

The slave with the least is sober in his observation. While most of us can easily be seduced by money, attention, and power, he is not. He knew the rewards were limited, and that the master only cared for himself. And so he revealed to the master the values at stake. 

The values of the master are accumulation. More power. More visibility. More influence. But for Jesus, the suggestion is that none of this is necessary. And that to understand this takes clarity of thought, or in other words, “sobriety,” the word that Paul emphasizes in today’s letter.

Sobriety is not solely temperance or abstemiousness. Sobriety represents the ability to gives up what one loves for something greater, and by doing so invites clarity in conviction. It’s sorts through the bad information from the useful, to have a glimpse of the truth. The sober person realizes they have nothing to lose by being honest. They refuse to lie to themselves. 

A responsible relationship with money might require sobriety because we can all be a slave to money’s seductions. While we each could benefit from a little more, the gospel reminds us to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” For while money constrains and disciplines, it both liberates and enslaves. As an alternative, Paul writes “encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”

Jesus is not impressed with money. Nor is he moved by honor or talent.

Instead, the gospel suggests we can be worthy of good things apart from our success. And so with Paul, we seek the habit of mutual encouragement, of building up each other, to strive for victories of another kind, ones based on love, where our own thriving doesn’t require the diminishment of others. 

The Police

I get the desire to redirect, defund, and abolish the police.

Over the last four decades several intersecting factors have made it difficult to challenge aspects of police culture. These include a reduction in mental health services; the growing power of police unions; militarization; and the increased presence of guns. Add that in some places the police are the tax collectors for municipalities and get graded on their generation of income.

And that doesn’t include the hiring of white supremacists.

But most community organizers will tell you that communities want the cops. Social workers want cops to provide protection when they’re called on to deescalate. Furthermore, most urban police departments are more diverse than other institutions.

Community organizers know that one problem is underpolicing in dangerous areas, and overpolicing in everyday situations.Community leaders can tell the police where the dangerous places are; and they will tell you when they see cops sleeping on the job. When a precinct or a department are not connected to the community, they will not have the capacity to respond effectively.

LEOs can often be their own worst enemy. Some times the cop who has the worst reputation is like an enforcer in hockey, who will be the one who can be called to handle the most challenging and intractable situations. They fire the police who tell the truth; they begin to see civilians as enemies. This is not structurally different than other unions. But their inability to police themselves agitates the problem. Escalation against citizens ends up escalating the calls for abolishing police. That some cops work for more than 18 hours in a day means poor decision making.

We live in a country where guns, poverty, and envy, intensify the anxiety and corrode the capacity of individuals and communities to direct their energy toward mutual flourishing. It can be geographically intensified through density and close contact. Without an abundance of countervailing institutions, violence has always been a way to pay the piper, to maintain honor, to establish rules. The availability of guns makes these communities, and work of LEOs less safe. The solutions are not simply, “be nice to cops” or to stop protesting; but perhaps counterintuitive.

Public safety includes a variety of social problems that requires coordination across disciplines. Communities should fund a variety of institutions that do so. This includes police. Therefore, some resources should be directed away from parts of the pipeline into programs that prevent violence in the first place – Midnight Basketball was one of the more ridiculed ones. But it worked!

I submit that two policies might actually reduce and redirect this challenge of cops occupying communities: fund living wage jobs for teen-agers to adults; and second, rearrange our policing so that they are not underpaid, do not work 30 hour overtimes, and are trained for more than 3 months, but up to four years. Four years before getting a gun.

That the origins of the police have been related to issues of race – and ethnic patronage – is familiar history. But origins do not determine use, and it is up to us to think realistically about both ensuring safety, and funding the programs that actually give people the tools to thrive.

The Primaries, a reflection

A candidate who, broadly speaking, shares my values won the Democratic primary replacing Nita Lowey, my congresswoman. Of course, this is within the narrow Overton Window that is American Politics.

Almost all the primary candidates did. That said, they each would have also quickly encountered the same political constraints in practice so the claims of being “progressive” didn’t weigh too much on my consciousness. Several candidates were truly brilliant; a couple were remarkably sharp and incisive. One who I thought had the most emotional competence didn’t even get 600 votes as of this blog.

I’m concerned, however, by the way social media frames our decisions and nationalizes our discussions. In my view, local politics vets effective public leaders; it holds national politicians accountable. It teaches people what matters to the average voter. I would rather get to know someone slowly over years than in a media blitz. So in my book, competence > enthusiasm, and charisma ≠ character.

I hope that the amazing candidates who ran and lost continue to find ways to lead and be connected in their communities. We have housing issues; our county infrastructure is fragile. We have very tangible issues here in Westchester that require leaders.

Congratulations Mondaire Williams.

Monuments and Black Jesus

It’s been a bad few weeks for monuments.

I’m not overly concerned with whether many stay or go. There are a wide variety of buildings, or permanent structures, that represent our cultural values and aspirations. They become fixtures that we seek to be remembered by, or to force others to remember.

Some will last and some won’t.

I’m glad that the symbols of the confederacy are being removed.  Let the monuments be placed in cemeteries or museums. There is no need to memorialize the slaveholder rebellion. It was four years of history, and there are a bazillion other reasons to value southern culture. We can visit the images of the stars and bars in a book.

Other monuments are more complicated. I’m glad to see some fall, but I remain perplexed by the choices about whose monument gets to stand. I wonder why and then who decides what stands and what doesn’t.  Was there a committee meeting I missed when Grant was being decided?

Some monuments can be opportunities for us to think more complicated thoughts about our past. I remember how disappointed I was when my father shared with me a more complicated description about Lincoln.  I’d already at a young age come to terms that our founding wasn’t as pretty as the textbooks say. That knowledge helped me handle the complexity that any person brings to their context. Build a plaque for some and add some questions. Give a longer and broader retelling. Let us not be afraid of our history so much we must conceal it.

Similarly, there has been some conversation about the worship of monuments of white Jesus, and his presence in public spaces. First, it’s clear that there are no Nordic or European people in scripture. But the faith always comes inculturated – so we will often imagine Jesus (and Mary) in a fashion that is more like a mirror.  It’s similar to just as Shakespeare has become the property of all nations, scripture is important because it speaks to YOU.  When it doesn’t, then it is merely another book.

Some people have primarily experienced white representation of Jesus. In my view this is a diminished vision of God.  We need not dispense with it, expand our perception and vision of him. As we practice with a variety of images of who Jesus looks like for us now, we can better perceive the Christ in one another. If you have not done so, a practice of envisioning Black Jesus in your prayer life may be rewarding and edifying.

To end the monuments of racism in our minds, build new ones.


Be prepared. Have dog treats. Ready the camera.

It doesn’t matter if the police chief is black.

For every action, a reaction. Prepare for the backlash.

Black Lives Matter.

Cold anger is hard, so I will not judge the rage.

Don’t be fooled, vengeance is justice.

I have tasted the deliciousness of revenge.

There is not a single one, who does not fear the mob.

Who redeems? Let the prisoners be free. 

Who forgives? 

You did not think her life should be destroyed, but destruction has its place.

Black lives matter.

What is the pain in the world?

Every tweet, every post, 

the pain, duplicates, magnifies.

All the data, pain, every moment.

Vindication is more satisfying than peace.

We are all sinners, even the righteous. 

If you can’t burn it down, 

turn off the screen.