A Peculiar Kind of Christianity



One of the verses that was drummed into my head as I was growing up in the church was 1 Peter 2:9. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. There was even a praise song we’d sing in church, that was basically just this verse.

We saw our peculiar selves as a good thing. We might be a little weird, yes, but we’re weird for Jesus! It was proof of our commitment to him. We were not of this world, we were merely in it. So as we listened to our CCM and went to our white churches and our white schools, we knew deep down that we were better than everyone.

Sure they might know a Janet Jackson song that will someday leave a generation of millennial Christians staring blankly into the abyss of cultural relevance, but we had Audio Adrenaline and Rebecca St. James. As soon as someone creates a cultural moment around having a Big House, we will be right there.

They taught us that our set-apartness made us holier than other people, because we knew the Truth. We knew the way to live that insured success, that made us not fall off the rails, that would keep us in God’s good graces. We were going to heaven, and not everyone was, so what if we were a little weird. Jesus told us the world wouldn’t like us, and blessed are you when people revile you because of his name.

All of the ways in which we as white conservative Christians differed from the liberal, secular society was proof that we were on the holy path and they were not. We were proud of our peculiarity.

This belief in peculiarity as holiness is why I think white evangelicals have no shame about continually being revealed as racists. Poll after poll after poll shows that white evangelicals vote Republican, they are the only group supporting Donald Trump, and as we learned this week, 74% of them prefer an America that existed before civil rights and women’s rights.

White conservative Christianity is being revealed to the country as the teeming bowl of patriarchal racism it has always been accused of being, and so many of them feel no shame about that. More proof that they are different, set-apart from the liberal society who values ‘diversity’, that terrible PC word.

And those white evangelicals who do have shame over this whole thing, for the most part, seem like they are hunkering down, waiting for this embarrassing wave to pass, hoping that everyone will forget all about it. Some of them might be standing up against Donald Trump, but not against the system that created him.

It’s good that there are so many people willing to reconsider and change their mind this election cycle, but there are also millions – millions! of white conservative Christians that are not ashamed to be known as sexist and racist and who both boldly and secretly support Donald Trump. We all know some. Most of us go to church with them. I don’t now, but for 34 of my 35 years I did. (Also can I just tell you how freeing it is to go to a church where they repudiate him and his policies from the pews. It’s amazing.)

And it’s easy to say ‘well that’s not what being a Christian means’ or ‘ok, but I’m not like that’, ‘not all white evangelicals’, but they shouldn’t be dismissed that easily.

For one, these racists still yield enormous power in the church. Chances are they are pastors, pastors wives, bible study leaders, and even simply being the attendees in the pews, they frame the edges of the conversation. You know when you are small-talking before church what the political temperature is. You know what would happen if you mentioned immigrants, or talked about how you visited a mosque, or why women are legitimately upset about assault. You know.

And you know that’s not what being a peculiar people is supposed to mean. Christians aren’t supposed to be known for their desire to exclude and oppress, or to be so shameless about it!

Being a Jesus kind of peculiar people, embracing that royal priesthood and declaring the praises of God means standing with the marginalized and oppressed, and it also means not letting the patriarchal racists have the power.

Which means that you need to speak up.

If you are a white christian, it is not ok for you to enjoy the luxury of sitting on the sidelines of this one. And, frankly, if you do start speaking up now, it should come with an apology for waiting so long. At this point in the game, it’s not really optional, especially if you go to a white evangelical church. You know how when a major story of racism is in the news and well-meaning white people are asking “but what can I do???” – This is it.

Address your friends on social media. Speak up in church, in your bible study conversations. Push your pastor to talk about it. It is not illegal to talk about how damaging, oppressive, and unempathetic proposed policies are. It is not illegal to do sermons on welcoming the stranger and being the good Samaritan. You have the power to refuse to let the 74% sit comfortably in their racism and oppression. Use it. People’s lives depend on it.

The Tears I Had Shed


I spent the first four years of my life as a believer in a faith community that was focused on developing a personal relationship with Jesus. We studied the scriptures, spent hours in Hebrew studies, and I found a deep love and passion in my heart to know and understand God through His word. Yet, inwardly I was scared. I was scared that God would call me to speak for Him one day, to share His word, minister His truth, or do something radical like work with abused women. This was a dream I had carried within my heart since the age of 12, to hold the hands of broken women but as a young believer, the image of this dream faded. Until I met a seminary student named Tim. It didn’t take long for romance to blossom between us and it didn’t take long for our first fight to erupt either. I remember standing across the hall, furious. His words resounding in my head, “do you think you have all these gifts, all this understanding, this wisdom, this love of God for just yourself?”

His question yanked open the door of fear in my heart. Fear to step in to who I sensed God had wanted me to be. I went into the room fresh from the argument, fell onto my knees, wept and asked God if He had more for me. Well, Jesus the amazing Saviour, He showed up that day, and with trembling hands and a fearful heart, I surrendered it all. A year later I enrolled for my honours program in Criminology, and I also began working as a trauma counselor assisting victims of crime and trauma at a local police station. I spent four years working as a volunteer trauma worker and during those years I mostly saw women. Broken women, beaten women, women trapped in violent relationships. I started writing about abuse (something I had experienced growing up) and organised local city campaigns at malls and hospitals. I felt the world had to know about the reality of abuse that prevails in the lives of South African women. For my Masters studies, I interviewed 60 women who had been survivors of abuse and through their stories, I found that many had been further victimised by their faith communities and churches. I spent every waking hour writing about gender based violence, testifying to how we need to change our theological ideas if we are to impact change. I started working as a researcher for a wonderful organisation addressing the reality of women abuse in Christianity and I got married, to the guy who helped me see that I was born for more.

Three years later I attended an art exhibition that haunted me. Forty-four artworks loomed in the hallways, artworks about human trafficking. After meeting with the curator, she brought me on board as the resident poet for all their events. I traveled and declared prophetic poems birthed in my heart. It was an awakening, a change in direction. Over the years I had shed so many tears. I struggled at times with feeling purposeless, until one day I finally cried out to Jesus about the strange ache for social justice that I had felt since that day I finally said yes to His call. He answered me by taking me to the source of that ache, to all the tears I had shed. They were loosening parts of my spiritual DNA, the parts that were destined to be watered by the hunger of tears. I was born, fashioned from clay in the garden of the Second Adams breast, to be the change I longed to be. My tears were hunger, I ate them just like the Psalmist said, they were my food, and they were telling me a story of my life to be, my tears were there to bring me over the hurdle of fear. Today, my husband and I run our own ministry, I work with the two social injustices that burn in my heart, gendercide and women’s literacy. I write books, stories with messages, and I am thankful for Grace, Who saved me for more, Who saved me for this.

Turning Compassion Inward


Amy sat with me on my screened porch at the lake, listening the way only a woman who has spent thirty years as a cloistered nun in a monastery, then three more years training to be a therapist, can listen.

“You have compassion fatigue,” she said.

“What?” I asked. “There’s an actual name for this? It’s not just that I can’t manage my time and relationships well?”  

I was exhausted and blind to what I was doing—even though I’d been writing it with my own hand for months. Leading up to this encounter, I’d been to a seminar for work, on a family trip across the country, helped a child find and furnish an apartment, gotten another ready for college three states away, and was preparing to return to my teaching job with a new course to teach and six new teachers to mentor, meanwhile hosting friends at the lake all in between. I’d written in my journal:

I feel a little slammed.” (A little slammed? Isn’t that an oxymoron?)

Life being so full is both blessing and curse. Sustaining relationships takes time and space. I want to be present for people that I love. I feel guilty not taking care of others as well as I should; then others I long for time with but rarely get to see . . . and the chaos of making choices and feeling like I am never enough for any of them . . . I am very unsatisfied.” (I noted that this felt defensive and reactive, and yet I wanted to be open and surrendered to what God brought me.)

“I love people and so easily form relationships, but then times like today my worlds seems to collide. Collision is what it feels like, too, in my head and my soul.” (Collision implies a wreck, damage, not just a fender-bender—shouldn’t that have set off an alarm bell?)

“I underestimate the toll compassion takes on my body and brain. I want a tender heart but sometimes I hate it.”

Quiet and receptive, Amy held space while I fumbled and grasped for words trying to explain what I had done the day before when I had left the five women—my houseguests—all sitting on the porch talking and wandered out into the lake by myself. It was unlike me: the hostess and chief conversationalist. If my life were the old TV series, The Love Boat, then my role is Julie, the Cruise Director.

But this day, in the midst of the episode, I appeared to have forgotten my role or lost my place in the script, and I just walked off the set. “I was tired,” I told Amy, “I talk too much. And the more I said in that conversation, the worse it got; every woman in the circle is strong-minded and opinionated.” I’d decided I needed to give them all a break from me, from my trying to merge opinions and soften others’ words which I perceived to be harsh toward each other.

“Who told you that you talked too much?” Amy asked. I proceeded to list comments made by family over the years related to the rate, volume, and amount of my speech. “I need to practice silence,” I told her.

“We missed you. We need your words. They enliven, even if they won’t always fully heal or control a situation,” she said, and continued that perhaps my definition of silence was skewed. “Silence is possible without solitude,” she said, “Both have their place, but silence is an internal conversation with God, not the absence of sound.”

Silence that is empty creates a vacuum, a space where negative self-talk rushes in. Silence the way Amy had practiced it for years was a directed and exclusive conversation, one that left no room for negative self-talk and could be had in the presence of six fiery women or six rookie teachers, or moving into an apartment or feeding twelve for dinner.

Silence is vertical. Silence can be there, hearing and seeing the same stuff, but “offering it up” on the inside. Like Mary at the wedding at Canaan, looking at Jesus and just stating the facts, “They are out of wine.” And fully expecting him to do something about it. Silence is knowing that most things are beyond my control and pausing to talk to the only One who can do anything about anything.  

Understanding silence this way was a first step and self-care was a second in healing compassion fatigue. Until that day, I just felt inadequate in the roles I’d been given. I didn’t know the cost of empathy. While others seems to move in and out of relationships and encounters, I internalize them. I begin to feel responsible for everyone around me, soothing hurt feelings, smoothing ruffled feathers, communicating where others have failed to— constantly reacting to my life in a horizontal manner, because I care deeply about the people in front of me.

And silence is also sometimes solitude and self-care for sensitive and empathetic people.  My nun-turned-counselor’s first prescription for me was one hour a day devoted to self-care. “Ask yourself, What do I need today?” she said. It sounded easy when she said it. It wasn’t. Wife, mom, teacher, employee, neighbor, friend, daughter, sister—I was so accustomed to filling roles I wasn’t even sure to whom I was addressing the question, not to mention the guilt of thinking I was being indulgent.

But I trusted my guide and though I still don’t hit the hour a day mark, I’ve learned to ask myself—not my roles—what I need, realizing that I can’t give love, compassion, mercy, or service to anyone if I don’t first practice giving them to myself.

Would the Real Christian Please Stand Up?


For a long time, I questioned what justice had to do with Christianity.

I know. It probably sounds as ridiculous to your ears as it does to mine, but this was the school of thought I ascribed to when it came to matters of faith.

I remember milling around the Back to School Fair the first week of college. Every organization and club represented at my liberal arts university had information displayed at their respective booths, ways for every student to get involved and make a difference, ways to express ourselves in this new chapter of life.

I signed up for everything, of course.

Sure, I’d love to snowshoe in the Cascades with Outdoor Club. Sure, I’ll try out for The Sound of Music and give my time to the thespians on campus – I had, after all, starred on the high school musical stage once or twice in my high school career. Sure, I’m up for traveling to South Africa with the study abroad program. Sign me up, man!

But I stopped when I got to the religious clubs represented on campus. There was Young Life, which offered outreach opportunities to local middle school and high school students. There excited The Well, a non-denominational weekly gathering. And then there was the Social Justice Club, a group that claimed to love God and serve the world through action.

I couldn’t help but wondering, though: Were they real Christians?

A couple of the girls from my dorm stood in front of the table, but they didn’t seem to encapsulate Jesus to me. I’d seen them come home drunk night after night, and I’d heard that they sometimes smoked pot. And I, for one, had never seen them hanging out in the dorm lounge early in the morning, reading their bibles and writing in their journals.

I therefore reasoned they must not be real Christians.

In my version of Christianity, real Christians didn’t sin so blatantly. Real Christians put their personal relationship with Jesus Christ above all else. Real Christians didn’t drink and smoke and do drugs and have sex, but real Christians lived a life of purity. Real Christians didn’t give in to temptation. Real Christians didn’t say one thing and do another.

And real Christians cared more about inward manifestations of faith more than outward expressions of religion.

Or so I thought.

I’ve since changed my mind, of course (and hopefully hung some of my Judge Judy ways up to rest permanently). And I’ve since come to believe that God makes manifest through various expressions of faith and worship, through different types of believers and churches and denominations alike.

Maybe I’ve taken the words, often attributed to Saint Francis, and taken them to heart: “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”

Maybe I’ve seen the power of Jesus most evident in the fleshy, real lives of people I love, when casseroles baked with love are dropped off on doorsteps, and when tears are wiped with the handkerchief and long sleeves of a friend, and when people don’t just throw I’ll pray for you accolades around like handfuls of confetti, but really, actually pray, and really, actually call, and really, actually show up.

And maybe, when it comes to conversations of justice and reconciliation, as I am particularly prone to engage in and drawn to on a personal level, it’s then not about lackadaisically keeping the peace, but it’s about actively, passionately, justifiably making the peace. It’s not merely about reading the story of the Good Samaritan, and giving Jesus a pat on the back for being such a good storyteller, but it’s about entering into the story and becoming Good Samaritan ourselves, whatever our context.

So, as for me, and maybe for you as well, I will not sit back and watch as the marginalized are further crushed by corrupt systems of injustice alive in our country today.

And I will not sit back and watch as the homeless and the mentally ill and the refugees among us are not given access to equal opportunities, education and health care.

But I will fight.

I will stand up and I will fight for peace; I will rally and I will petition and I will speak out to make peace happen, not merely as an observer and not merely as an inactive participant who wishes to peace to reign.

But I will stand up and I will do something.

I will enter into the conversation. I will get educated. I will get proximate to the pain, and I will choose to notice the marginalized right in my neighborhood; I will beg God to open my eyes to the pain that surrounds me, so my soul might be awakened to social and racial and economic injustices happening around me today.

At least that’s my prayer.

Could it be the same for you?

Naming the Longing


Adjacent to the parking lot of our condominium building, sat a clump of pine trees with fine, green needles and dripping sap. The landscapers planted the trees in such a way that, once grown, they formed a canopy above a small, oval opening. If one looked hard enough, and squinted against the sunlight, one might see it.

As kids, my neighbor, Michelle and I, discovered this opening and it became my favorite place to retreat from pesky siblings and the heat of summer. In our hideaway, I sat on a bed of dried pine needles, the scent of sap rising around me as I crushed the needles beneath my weight. I imagined myself invisible to the real world, hidden in a land far away.

Sometimes, I brought snacks or a pencil and notebook and hid them beneath the canopy. Other times, I cleared the space of broken sticks, and created little vignettes of broken flower stems or needle piles, acorns or pebbles.

A few years after making this space our own, Michelle and I discovered someone else had found it as well. They left crushed cans and open condom wrappers in their wake. They scattered trash and made a mess of the little bit of beauty we tried to create.

We found another spot to create a new world, near a small, dry ditch with honeysuckle dripping over it. There was a bed of moss I lovingly sprayed with water to create a carpet of leprechaun green. We arranged stones set in patterns, and lined sticks up beside one another to create plates, with acorns piled on top to eat.

Michelle looked for turtles and salamanders in the ditch, while I pretended I lived in a world of Lilliputian size covered with dense moss, a world colored green.

We outgrew this place, and began exploring the nearby woods, but with time, the woods became too small to contain the real world crowding in around us. I stopped using the natural world as my place of imagination and adventure, and instead, I dove deep into the world of books again and again.

Those carefree days of childhood are the color of moss and bark. They smell like fresh pine and book spines and sunshine. My childhood world offered me a place of order and creativity, a place where beauty could and would thrive. There was a right-ness to this world. A sense of belonging.

As an adult, I’ve wanted to recapture this feeling, this bone-deep craving for something I couldn’t seem to name. The Germans have a word for this called “sehnsucht”. There is no English equivalent, but it’s a word that describes yearning, intensely missing, incompleteness, a longing.

I’ve looked to nature, to scripture, to stories, to homemaking, to writing–all in an effort to uncover the deeper pining. As I’ve returned to those halcyon days in my mind, I’ve realized the deeper longing filling my heart are twin desires for beauty and for belonging.

My childhood allowed me to seek beauty and belonging in the most imaginative places, but adulthood brings with it the complications of real life. Others step in and spoil our quiet places. Circumstances trash the world we imagined as pure and lovely. Beauty is hard to uncover in the midst of failure or relational difficulties. Belonging feels foreign in times of transition or uncertainty.

But, naming the longing is a beginning. It is wiping the chalkboard clean of everything that distracts me, and returning to my first love. The soft carpet of pine needles like a dream laid beneath my feet, the creative impulse free of boundaries, the stories woven into the fabric of my memory, the opportunity for creating a rich inner and outer world through beauty—these are still available to me.

The past decade has been one of re-discovery, of following the trail of crumbs left behind by longing. I am learning new ways of creating beauty and seeking belonging, but the seeds sown in my childhood have become rooted in the fresh and wild landscape of middle age. Like pine and honeysuckle and moss, they are alive–verdant and blooming.

Why do I always do this?


The Stupid Cupcakes

He found me lying there on the ground, spread eagle in dirty yoga pants, my back brace, and an apron. The TV sounded faint and tinny in the basement where the kids ran and hid when I started yelling.

“What happened, honey? Are you okay?” Chris rushed to my side.

“I can’t do this. Why are we doing this? I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“How many cupcakes did you make today?” he sighed.

“264. But I need 300. I miscounted. I have to make more for that damn baseball team. I promised.”

“Why did you promise to make 300 cupcakes? We can’t do that.”

“We’re doing it for ORPHANS! Because God loves orphans! Remember?! They have a crappy life and no parents and big diseases and we can’t even make cupcakes! We suck!”

He pulled me up and hugged me. “Aim. You can’t keep doing this. We don’t have an industrial kitchen. We don’t have a staff. We have a tiny 90 year old kitchen and really intense kids. This is too much.”

I glared at him and ripped open another box of devil’s food cake mix. He left to take off his tie and find the kids.

Why do I always do this?

My friends and family raised their eyebrows and pursed their lips when I announced we were doing a bake sale to help orphaned and imprisoned children in Uganda. Even though the last one was an astounding success ($37,000 for Haiti after the earthquake), no one wanted to endure my preventable breakdown afterwards.

But this time would be easier. I promised. It would just be cupcakes. From a mix. With a few enhancements. Definitely homemade buttercream frosting. And customized decorations. And not $37,000 again. Just $1000 would be fine.

“Wait. You want to raise $1000 from cupcakes?” my husband challenged.

“It will be great!” I smiled and climbed on a stool to start the big to-do list on a poster board.

A week into it, I was muttering to myself and sweating about the “stupid cupcakes,” my “stupid bad back,” my “stupid kids,” and the “stupid orphans.”

Shame flooded my heart. I frantically mixed the batter and quickly prayed, “I’m sorry, Lord. I’m sorry. Please help the orphans in Uganda. Please provide for them. Please accept this little offering. I’m so sorry I get so tense. I’m sorry, Lord.”

Why do I always do this?

Later that night, with all the muffin tins on the drying rack, Chris said, “You know it would totally be okay to raise $20 at a bake sale, like normal people.”

“No. What’s the point of that?”

I made everyone frost, decorate, and deliver cupcakes the next day. My son demanded to know, “Why do we have to bribe people? Doesn’t everyone want to help orphans? Can’t we just tell them to send money? Why do we have to give them a reward for it? I don’t want to do this anymore!”

Why do I always do this?

My youngest held out the longest. Her main job was to separate m&m’s by color for decorating. She sang “I’m making cupcakes for God” as she plinked candy into the right bowls. “You said when we do something for orphans, it’s like we’re doing it for God, right Mama?” I cried. See? If we stopped making these stupid cupcakes my baby wouldn’t have had that magical God moment. Totally worth it.

My husband clarified, “We can’t do this again.”

“But it’s so great, honey.”

“Really?” He pleaded. “You said we were doing this so our kids will want to pursue justice and mercy because of Jesus. You know the #1 way to guarantee they won’t? To rope them into these schemes, and have a crazy mom who swears, and gets all worked up for weeks at a time.”

Why do I always do this?

I relented and asked friends help make the last 450 cupcakes, and they sold out in front of my house in a half hour. We raised $1600, and sent it all to the organization. In spite of my gross flaws, we helped orphans. I apologized to my kids. I caught my breath. I planned more crazy fundraisers.

But we never made those stupid cupcakes again.


Where Is Home To Me?


We cannot have reconciliation without first having truth.


I climb back into my minivan, fumbling with my keys. My face is blazing, my breath coming in short bursts, fevered and sour on my tongue and in that moment I don’t know whether I want to explode in a stream of expletives or lay my head down on the steering wheel and weep. Maybe both. My mom is waiting in the passenger seat and I relay my story to her, words tumbling out of my mouth blistering with rage.

Minutes before I’d stood in line at the post office waiting for the one working clerk at the counter to receive mail, figure out where people’s packages went and sell stamps to the customers in front of me. I’d left my phone in the car and without it I stared blankly at the cards and bubblewrap for sale on the shelves.

Well, at least he’s not afraid to tell it like it is, he’s not going to kow-tow to some liberal agenda,” the man a few people in front of me says in a voice that carries and echoes through the tiny post office. “He’s not a career politician and although I may not agree with some things he says or the way he says them, he’s what this country needs to get back on the right path,” he booms.

The man behind him nods his head along. The conversation continues, their voices swelling and overlapping in that small space. I move a few steps forward as another customer finishes. I’m almost there. The woman behind me scrolls through her phone lazily and rolls her eyes in their direction, it’s hard to ignore their voices, meant not just for their conversation but for everyone to hear and know where they stand. They are making a point.

Another man walks in behind her and takes his place at the end of the long line. The lone postal worker continues to plod through the customers, moving at a glacial pace.

The government’d prolly be able to afford more postal workers if they stopped sending all of that money over to the muslims,” he says aiming his words at the woman behind me. She smiles awkwardly and tries to keep looking at her phone.

Of course, our government is being run by one so not much chance of that,” he chuckles.

She looks uncomfortable shifting her package to her other side but she remains silent.

I don’t know why everyone is all in a fuss about keeping those muslims out. Nine times out of ten, they’re connected to some sort of terrorist propaganda. They’re trained to come in and seem normal but we don’t really know who any of ‘em are.”

The men in front of me are nodding in agreement.

“It’s just like with those japs,” he says, his eyes resting on me for a second. “People are all pissed off that they were interned but we didn’t have another Pearl Harbor, did we? Damn people don’t even realize we won that war because we protected our own whatever the cost. Not so with 9/11. No, we keep letting them in and look what’s happening.”

My mind is a wasteland of things I want to say. To scream. I am part Japanese. Anyone looking at me would see at the very least that I am Asian. His words roll over me and I know they were said for my benefit. I am one of the unwanted people. In his mind, I am other.

My thoughts are coming too fast, my heart battering my chest and thudding like a kick drum in my ears trying to block out the rest of the conversation.

This is what is apparent to me, eyes trained on my shoes, face red as a brick and just as stony, there are three of them. Three large men who don’t like the idea of my kind being in “their” country never even pausing to consider that this is my country too.

I say nothing. Neither does anyone else.

Later, I would think that I’m glad it was me in that post office and not my tiny 4’10 mother who looks much more Asian than me. And then I thought about how I would feel and what I would say if my daughter were standing there by my side hearing those men talk that way.

What do I say to her about this country? Our country.

Where is home to me?


Why do you hate cops? Wait till someone’s breaking into your house or holding you at gunpoint and then see how you do without any of them around to help! Why don’t you go back to your own country if you don’t like it here!”

I stare at the message, read it one last time and hit delete. It’s not the first one I’ve deleted. It won’t be the last. I’ve blocked people on twitter after being called a race-baiter or other creative and not so creative slurs. Ironically, they’re often racial ones. Chink, gook, jap, china-girl, ching-chong. At some point in my life, I’ve been called them all. In the last year, it’s been more than any other time in my life. 

I’ve been unfriended by fellow Christians I’ve known for a long time who cannot stomach the conversations about race in America and feel that it is both unproductive and divisive to talk about the issues surrounding race and racism. Some have thought that being concerned about police brutality is the same as declaring war on cops or negating the good ones trying to serve in a system that is still horribly skewed against communities and people of color.

Some have said it’s ungrateful and downright unchristian to see color. After all, we’re all the same underneath our skin.

I’ve read the words colorblind and the sentiment behind them so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve been told that it’s just a sin issue but refuse to name that sin racism. I’ve been told I’m too sensitive and it’s just a joke, why take it so seriously? I’ve had people who have read me for years and stood with me as I wrote about mental illness and body image, grief, and faith, who literally unsubscribed from my blog when I used the term white supremacy. I have friends and relatives who won’t understand why I write what I write.

I enter conversations about race tentatively, often holding my tongue and saying less than I could or maybe even should  because I am so tired and I never know at which point I’ll see those defenses rise and the arguments begin and when I tell my story, they’ll nod their heads sympathetically and tsk tsk the bad behavior of “those racists” without ever stopping to think that it’s not just a smattering of good ol’ boys in Ford trucks bullying women in post offices, but a system that feeds that hate and supremacy.

For a person of color, it doesn’t always matter what is underneath because we’re judged first by what isn’t. Those men took one look at me and considered me other. Foreign. Someone intruding on their way of life and their country. But even without those blatant experiences, there are ways in which the system of white supremacy moves on seamlessly.

I’ll enter rooms and conferences and writer’s groups knowing there is a very good chance I’ll be the only person of color present. I’ll dodge minefields because I don’t always want to be that woman, the one who brings up why the speaker line up isn’t diverse, or the leadership team, or the contributors, why the stock photos are all smiling white people or white skin, why the literary agents or their clients are all white, and the publishing companies, and the spiritual memoirs and the bestsellers… It’s bone numbingly exhausting to be the one who is always pushing back or pushing in.

I’m told I should be glad I’ve been given a seat at the table but what people fail to see is that even though I’m sometimes invited to the table, it’s still their house and I’m still a guest.

Where is home to me?


Pain is housed in my memories, taking up shelter in my cells. They remember the curve backed anxiety that courses through me like a shell closing in on itself. They remember the tears and the sorrow and yes, even the rage. But what they recall most, what anguishes each membrane and strand of DNA is that somewhere in the creation of me, is a certainty that I was made for better things.

I was created for beloved community. You are too.

When I speak out, I am not angry only on behalf of myself, but my children’s generation. When I say there are voices that are not heard, it’s because the whole church benefits from listening to those on the margins, not just those speaking out. When I say it hurts, it’s not because one cell hurts or even the whole of me. It hurts because we were all created for more.

To be a body, a church, a beloved community who weep together and mourn together and rejoice together. We are a body who falls together or stands together and if we are one, we must contend against the lies that tell us the image of God is not present in those “others.”

Sometimes I find solace among friends who truly get it. I tell my story and they share theirs and I’m fully heard. I don’t have to argue about why my experience and the ones of so many other people of color are valid or why it matters desperately in the church that we listen to each other. I don’t have to awkwardly interject questions and be accused of playing the race card or have my motives questioned. I don’t have to prove points. Sometimes these friends will just listen and when I’m done, they’ll say, I see you, I believe you, it matters to me.

Let’s find the way home together.

Being Ministered To on a Mission Trip

Traci Rhoades @ The Mudroom

I woke up on a cot in the gymnasium with butterflies in my stomach. I’d brought a sleeping bag with the intent of sleeping on the hard floor, but after suffering from an awful case of indigestion, I was offered one of the few available cots. I seemed to be feeling back to normal, except for the butterflies.

A group from my university spent our Spring Break on a mission trip in downtown Dallas, partnering with a ministry who served families in need. We had a full day of service planned and I hoped I was up for it.

I also hoped it wouldn’t be too obvious I was out of my comfort zone. I grew up in a small country church where I was related to half of the congregation. I’d never been to Dallas and didn’t know a thing about witnessing to strangers who had nothing in common with me. I rubbed my sweaty palms down the front of my jeans as I walked quietly to the van.

The first stop that morning was the sanctuary of the church where the mission did its work. We worshiped with the people we would minister to that week. Following the service, they’d go downstairs to visit the food pantry and clothing closet before getting a free lunch. The Bread of life served up with a side of our daily bread.

Our group received a commissioning prayer near the end of the service, which helped ease my nerves. Afterward, we mingled in the sanctuary and a few went outside to witness on the street, inviting people to join us for lunch.

That’s when I met Tom. He was by himself and started talking with a group of us. We swapped stories. He was an alcoholic, which cost him a life with his wife and kids. In his drunken state, he’d ended up on the streets of Dallas before sobering up (a year and counting). He was a regular at the soup kitchen, even volunteering when he could.

During the noon hour, with my lunch in hand, I spotted Tom with his bowl of soup and crusty bread, so I sat down beside him. I don’t recall how our conversation took a turn, but I started telling Tom about my own dad.

“My dad has a drinking problem too, among other things. I worry about his life choices. Even more, I’m concerned about his eternal choices because I don’t know if he is a Christian.”

Who tells a stranger these private things…on a mission trip?! Our conversation probably broke some policy: a volunteer dumping her sob story on the one being ministered to, but talking with Tom felt more like talking to a friend. But I needed Tom’s story and he needed mine. Looking back now, I realize it was Tom who ministered to me that day. No one on this trip knew about my family’s complexities. My soup grew cold, as I kept anxiously glanced to the right and left, wondering who was listening. I wasn’t ready to tell my classmates, but Tom felt safe. He’d been there.

Tom caught up with me again the last day of our mission trip. He thanked me for all we’d done and then, out of nowhere, he teared up and said, “Don’t give up on your dad. Keep praying for him and I will too.”

He shared with me the progress he’d made with his own family — the ones he abandoned. His ex-wife still wanted nothing to do with him, for which he couldn’t blame her. He talked with his son occasionally, but his relationship with his daughter had mended the most.

She’d prayed for her dad all these years, the entire decade since he’d left home. She was ecstatic to get reports of his recovery and he hoped to save enough money to go visit her soon. That little piece of hope rooted around in my heart. Some conversations settle in the deepest parts of your soul.


Years later, I sat in Bible study discussing the importance of continuing to pray for a person who isn’t walking with God. One lady spoke with such confidence, “If you keep praying, God will reach that person.”

Immediately, I remembered my encounter with Tom. I knew things weren’t always that easy. I’d taken Tom’s advice. I prayed for my dad for years, until the day he died, yet I don’t know how those prayers were answered. My dad never showed much evidence God had reached him. I rely on hope unseen: it’s what my faith calls me to do.

I remember my time in Dallas vividly, when Tom assured me if he could be saved, there was hope for anyone — including my dad. Hearing Tom’s story, looking into his tear-filled eyes as he begged me to continue praying for my dad; that’s the hope I cling to still. I realized something on that mission trip: the Kingdom of God is a great neutralizer. In Christ, our backgrounds and geography don’t matter all that much. I’ll never forget the time I thought I was the one ministering to people, but it was I who received grace from a recovering alcoholic fresh off the streets of downtown Dallas. That’s the way of God’s kingdom.

I’m Not Here to Save Anyone

The year I showed up in a classroom in an urban High School in south Atlanta, was the year after the movie “Freedom Writer” came out. I know this because the kids called me that as though it was my name. 

“Who you got for English?” 

“Freedom Writer!” 

I acted annoyed and told them I was younger and cuter than Hillary Swank, but secretly I was pleased. I was there to save them. I was there to bring them their freedom, show them a better way. Maybe I was hoping to be a little more edgy, like Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds, but they saw me for what I was hoping to be.

I was hoping to be the white savior. I was planning on it really. 

Spoiler Alert: The white savior figure isn’t real. We already have a savior, and I am never it. Instead of spending the year winning over hearts and minds by showing up with brilliant lesson plans and a hear of gold,

I learned that I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t even close to enough. 

I learned I was underprepared. I had not done the work I needed to do to serve the community. I had not read a single book about black identity. Really the only stories of black high schools I had familiarized myself with weren’t actually about the kids. They were about people who looked just like me being changed and affirmed by black communities. Those were the stories I was interested in. 

I learned just how egotistical I was. What made me think I could change the system just because I really wanted to? What did I think all those other teachers who had been there before me wanted? To be honest, I didn’t think much about the system at all. I mean, I had been an honors student at a middle class, mostly white school. The system had worked for me. Didn’t that mean the system worked? I just needed to show all of these other people who were more qualified and educated than I was how it worked, so they could work it too! At 22 with exactly zero work experience, I really thought I knew better. 

I learned the realities of my students lives. Despite the fact that I was ill-prepared and egotistical, my students opened up to me anyway. Through the sharing of their lives and stories I was able to see the ways they were being set up to fail. I learned how much they had to get through just to show up every day. I learned how the system did not account for all the extra hardships poverty and systemic racism had thrust upon them. 

I learned how to listen. I learned how to really listen to my students, what they were telling me. I learned how to pay attention to the ways the system was unfair. I learned to see the ways they were overcoming it anyway. 

But mostly I learned that I wasn’t their savior. I wasn’t going to swoop into a community that I did not know, let alone love, and just make things all better. I wasn’t going to be able to fix anything in the time frame I was expecting, and certainly not all on my own. 

It turns out they didn’t need a savior. No one needed me to come in and offer hope; they already had hope. No one needed me to come in and offer dignity; they already had dignity. 

I didn’t learn that I was the white savior by accident. Our culture is full of stories that teach people like me that I have the power to bring people hope, dignity, freedom. I learned them in church. I learned them in movies. I certainly learned these stories in teacher school. I learned that I was supposed to go save people. So I did. 

And then, I really learned. I learned that we all are in need of a savior. I learned how wrapped up in each other our salvation really is. I learned about systemic racism and the ways I was complicit. I learned about how systemic racism hurt me too. I learned we need each other, desperately to point to freedom for everyone. 

Mostly I learned that I was not the savior. I could not be more grateful for that lesson. 


Walking On Ashes: Thoughts After the Fort McMurray Fire

Like the rest of Lac La Biche, I flew into action once the mandatory evacuation notice was declared over Fort McMurray. I knew enough food for everyone was going to be an immediate concern. I made phone calls; I returned phone calls; I sent emails; I responded to emails; I rubbed my eyes, just like everyone else, and kept going.

No one could believe what was happening.

Everyone was dumb with shock.

Sitting in my office, I heard horror stories about the slow caravan through hell. One family lost communication with their adult daughter who was nine months pregnant; another family feared being unable to escape the blaze because their tires were melting on the pavement; and yet another described massive arches of flames licking upwards over the highway, with thousands of people stuck in their vehicles beneath.

Their shock was palpable. Our small town of thirty-five hundred nearly quadrupled in size in one day. An official emergency evacuation station was set up at the local community centre, and all hands pitched in. People drove up and down Highways 63 and 881 with clean water and food, tanks of free fuel, rides for people whose vehicles had broken down, and basic first aid assistance. In a worst-case scenario, the best of humanity shone through.

The shock began to wear off though.

As shock released its grip on most people, reality began to sink in: “We’ve lost everything.”

Even for people who didn’t lose their homes, living through one of the greatest natural disasters in Canadian history left burn scars. Trauma brought with it nightmares, family strife, anxiety, and depression. Many people lost their jobs and are still to this day looking for employment.

How do we put words to The Beast?

It seemed to me that the world was in ashes.

Even when it was reported that less of Fort McMurray had been destroyed than what was previously estimated, it still felt like the world had burned down to the ground. What were we to say? What were we to do?

All that was left were damp ashes.

As my world began to right itself once more – back to its new normal-not-normal – I began to experience a strange thing: in the world trying to return to some semblance of balance, I felt my own anxiety increase. It was as if I was walking on damp ashes. The hundreds of thousands of tons of water had flooded the Beast, but now I was treading on what was left behind and it felt both charred and muddy. It reeked of smoke. I was walking on people’s stories, but not just the stories of evacuees.

Holding space for the stories coming out of Fort McMurray was a strangely holy act. There were no words to bring healing for the many thousands who had suffered grief and loss. The silence of God was as much a balm as gift cards, food, and clothing. But as the shock wore off for other people too, more stories began to fill that holy space. Timidly and often in shame, people would whisper:

“I got laid off…”

“I have to get away from my husband…”

“I’m struggling with depression and I can’t walk around a supermarket…”

“We have no food…”

This holy space not only began to hold space for evacuees, but for the many others affected by life’s other curveballs. Yet because of the fire, many people who were not directly affected by The Beast had been inadvertently shamed into silence. In my oddly shaped food bank office, they would quietly confess that family members, friends and neighbors had clucked their tongues and said:

“Be grateful. At least your house didn’t burn down like the ones in Fort McMurray.”

And the walking upon damp ashes suddenly became more anxious and more holy. 

The folks not affected by The Beast had come to believe that their own troubles were not worth being considered as burdens. Despite good intentions, the impact was to force many people to feel like that had to suffer in silence. It took great courage to reveal their fear to me (or anyone) and I sat in awe of their pain and of their choice to take a chance sharing their private grief.

Our community rallied around the evacuation in beautiful Sermon-on-the-Mount fashion. All were welcome, all were fed, and all were assured we were there to weep and laugh alongside with the evacuees. And truly I don’t believe we forgot about our own locals’ struggles. This anxious holy space only became apparent to me two or three weeks after the evacuation happened when people hesitantly began to share, in tears, how guilty they felt for suffering with troubles other than The Beast.

How could I walk on the remains of other people’s stories? The damage was done. The pain was already underfoot. I could only being doing more damage by continuing on foot. The devastation was vast and seemed to never end.

Yet this was precisely why this vast devastated landscape had to be held open as holy space. Christ was here – in the ashes, in the smoke, in the floodsAnd his presence was not cornered to the Wood Buffalo region alone. Life knows no timely schedule about who will suffer first, recover, and then allow for the next person to suffer. A fire happens here, while a suicide happens there, and a car accident occurs right on its heels, and a job loss follows immediately afterwards.

My job came down to all of two words as I walked this burned holy space, the ashes made of the lives of many people from many places:

“I’m listening…”

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