What I told my daughter the morning after election night


Yesterday I took my daughter with me to vote. She held my hand as we colored the circle by Hillary Clinton’s name together. As bedtime approached, I promised to wake her up so she could watch if Clinton won.

This morning I got out of bed at 5:30 and wondered what on earth I would say to her when she woke up.

She came downstairs a couple hours later. We told her about the election results; then we all stared blankly at the TV for a bit. (Cartoons, not the news. Anything but the news.) As we went back upstairs to get ready for school, I told her, “I’m sorry Hillary didn’t win.”

Then I asked if she understood what this meant. She said just two words.

“Bully president.”

I asked if she knew what else it meant that Trump had won, and she said, “He’s going to destroy the world?”

I didn’t know what to say.

To the best of my knowledge, she didn’t hear this kind of thing from my wife or me. Either she picked it up somewhere else, or she came to it entirely on her own.  Either way, my 6-year-old is now afraid for the future of the world.

Thanks for that, America.

I didn’t have the heart to tell my daughter that Clinton appears to have won the popular vote by a narrow margin, but that we have this inane, anachronistic system called the Electoral College which has thwarted democracy now for the second time in a still-young century.

I can only expose my daughter to one cruel, absurd injustice at a time.

So instead, we sat down on her bed, and I tried to explain how not everyone who voted for Trump is a bully or a racist. How some people voted for him because they were scared or angry about the way they thought the country was going.

But because Donald Trump bullies women, minorities, gays, and immigrants—there are some people now, I told her, who will think it’s OK for them to do the same. And that’s why it’s more important than ever for us to stand up to bullies, to stand up for those who are being bullied, to speak out when we see someone being mistreated.

I told her that Donald Trump has a lot of power now—a lot more than I’d ever want a man like him to have. But he doesn’t have absolute power. We still have the power to choose how we respond.

I said this partly to encourage her, partly in the hopes of convincing myself.

Then I held her, while wondering out how the hell to get on with pretending this is an ordinary day. Normally at this point, I’d be getting her school uniform ready while coaxing her out of bed. Today, I couldn’t move.

After a few moments of just sitting together, holding onto each other, she quietly got up, went to her closet, and picked out her uniform.

Our country is not worthy of her.

Halfway out of the dark… yet?


It’s appropriate that winter solstice falls near the end of Advent, even if it’s a reminder of how our celebration of Christ’s birth got wound up in the pagan festivities of ancient Rome.

It’s appropriate because Advent is a symbol of what we observe in the sky: today, we’re halfway out of the dark (to quote a certain Doctor Who Christmas special). The night has not yet lost its grip on the world, but its power is waning every day. Our redemption is not yet complete, but it has begun.

Not that it feels like the night is losing its grip. It will be a long time still before the sun feels warmer on our skin and the days longer. Some nights, it’s hard to believe we are headed out of the darkness at all.

I wrote pretty much the same thing this time last year. In 2014, there was no shortage of heartbreak to make us wonder if the night would ever recede. A brutal war in Gaza. The persecution of religious minorities in Iraq. Systemic racism claiming victims such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice.

This year, the examples have changed. But not that much, really.

A brutal war in Syria, along with attacks in Paris, Lebanon, and San Bernardino.

The persecution of refugees fleeing violence.

The unbridled hostility toward Muslims in our own country.

Systemic racism claiming still more victims while the rest of us shrug: Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, the nine martyrs of Charleston.

It’s hard to believe the night is receding when serious contenders for high office stoke the fires of xenophobia, when professing Christians talk glibly about packing heat so they can take down “those Muslims,” when the only answer the world can muster to the scourge of violence is… more violence. (You’d think after 10,000+ years of human civilization…)

It’s hard to believe the night is receding when our racism is laid bare—racism we foolishly thought we’d dealt with. It’s hard to believe our redemption is near when we continue to exclude those who are different—those who don’t “conform” or tick the right boxes. When we zealously rebuild the “dividing walls” our savior tore down. When we blatantly ignore the teachings of Christ in favor of self-preservation and self-protection.

But that’s the mystery of redemption, isn’t it?

If our redemption feels as though it’s a long time coming, the question we should ask is not, “What’s taking so long?” or “Will it ever come?”

The question we should ask is, “What am I doing to bring it about?”

Redemption is God’s business. Only he could initiate it. Only he can bring it to fulfillment. But after securing our redemption with his death and resurrection, Jesus did a strange thing.

He left.

He entrusted the still-incomplete work of redemption to a fledgling band of followers.

He said to those left behind, “You will receive power.”

Those followers began thinking of themselves as the “body of Christ”—the physical, tangible manifestation of their redeemer.

Redemption has not stalled. God has not stopped dwelling among us. His presence has simply taken on new form: us.

At Christmastime, we celebrate our redemption in the form of a helpless baby. But we should also learn to see redemption in the form of our own hands and feet. God has entrusted his project to us… and we’re not doing very well with it, are we?

That’s the thing about redemption: ours is tied up in the world’s.

If it feels like God’s redemptive plan for the world has stalled, perhaps we should ask whether it has stalled in us.

Are we still committed to being the hands and feet of Christ—the physical, tangible manifestation of our redeemer—which, by the way, means hands that are outstretched and open, not clenched in a fist?

Are we still committed to putting the good of the other over the preservation of ourselves?

If not, then what we are seeking is not redemption.

There is a way out of the dark. The night will recede. But only when we choose to become the agents of redemption that God has called us to be.

Photo: Icy Morning Glow by Sonja und Jens on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Even the dogs (guest post)

This week in churches all over the world, we’ll hear Jesus call someone of a different race a dog. The Syrophonecian woman appears in the Lectionary this Sunday for the second time in just over a year.

She came to us last year in a reading from Matthew, just as tensions in Ferguson were boiling over. Now she comes to us again, this time from Mark. Still confronting us. Still challenging us. Still laying bare our prejudices.

She has the audacity to keep shouting when the disciples tell her to be quiet. She will not protest on their terms. She will not submit to their notion of respectability. She resists their attempts to control and dismiss her.

The Syrophonecian woman forces us to think about how we treat the “outsiders” in our world today. As we reject the dignity of others in the name of God, as we close our borders and our hearts to refugees from the same part of the world this woman called home, as we try to silence the voices of those who dare to tell us that “black lives matter”— she is there. Still watching. Still waiting. Still exposing our prejudice.

Below is a homily that one of my friends, the Rev. Daniel Brereton, shared on his blog last year. Daniel is an Anglican priest in Toronto and, frankly, he’s one of the best reasons to be on Twitter. His sermon has stayed with me over the past year, so I asked him if I could share it here. May it challenge us to think about who we’ve silenced—through our actions or mere apathy—who we dismiss as “outsiders,” and whether we’re willing to make room for them at the table, just as God made room for us…


Who was she, I wonder? This annoyingly tenacious, desperate woman, with such quick wit and—as Jesus himself points out—such great faith? 

She has no name. She’s not an individual—at least, the disciples aren’t looking at her that way.  She’s just a label, a representative of an outside and despised group.  Easily ignored and easily dismissed… until she refuses to be.

And that’s when this woman becomes a problem. It’s always a problem for the dominant culture when people who differ refuse to stay quietly on the margins, especially when what they say—what they are—offends, challenges, or chastens our prized sense of superiority.

This woman, whoever she was, not only appears in different gospels, but she appears in every age, in every culture, in different guises. You can still see her today: a hand outstretched, trembling with fear at being reviled, or with anger at being mocked, or weariness at being continually silenced. She still seeks a blessing, and she is still told to go away. She is no longer a Canaanite, but she is a Christian being persecuted in Iraq, a Palestinian killed in Gaza, a gay person beaten and arrested in Russia, a black person in Ferguson apparently so threatening to the authorities that the police brought out tanks and tear gas.

All because she still won’t shut up and go away.  

Demanding to be heard and seen causes problems, for those doing the shouting and for those who just want them to be quiet and go away. But according to today’s gospel, this steadfast refusal to be silenced also opens the door to healing, not only for the woman’s daughter, nor even just for the woman herself but perhaps most for the disciples, whose vision of God’s kingdom is suddenly expanded, however tightly closed they’ve closed their eyes.

That’s the blessing. But first, the problem: 

The woman is a Gentile, so she is automatically “unclean” according to all the religious rules. She is also unaccompanied—no husband, no father, no brother. Any woman who approached a man without a male escort could only be judged as one kind of woman.

Yet driven by concern for her daughter, she strides right up to a man from a people who have despised her and condemned her all her life and implores his help. And then Jesus—our Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Prince of Peace—calls this woman a “dog.” 

Now that shocks us. But it wouldn’t have shocked anyone else standing within ear shot. “Dog” was a term commonly used as a label for anyone not Jewish. The Jews were God’s chosen people. Encouraged by the Pharisees, most believed this identity obligated them to honour that status with laws and customs that rigidly set them apart. Jesus fully accepted this. Israel is set apart by God.

Where Jesus differed from the Pharisees was not in the belief that Israel had been set apart, but in his idea of what Israel had been set apart for. For Jesus, Israel was set apart not to hold itself aloof from the world nor to condemn it but to show the world, through its own experience, that their God was a God who was more pleased with pure hearts than with pure sacrifices; their God was a God who remained loyally committed to his people, even when they betrayed him; their God was a God who provided for them out of loving concern, not simply as a reward for good behaviour.  Their God would send the Messiah to bring all nations under his just and loving rule. 

Yet the only person there who seems to really believe this is not a disciple, but a dog.

Jesus calls her a dog to show that from the perspective of his religion, she’s an outsider. From the perspective of his kingdom, though, she’s the only one there who is actually inside it. Which begs the question for us: are we in Jesus’ kingdom? Or just part of a religion?

It is no coincidence that Matthew places his version of the story immediately after the feeding of the 5,000. In that story, the disciples want Jesus to send the hungry people away to feed themselves and Jesus tells the disciples bluntly: No. YOU give them something to eat.  

So the disciples have seen the generosity of God with their own eyes—that there is plenty to go around, that all can be fed for the asking. And now, confronted with someone who is asking, their response is still, “Send her away.” How slow, how blind, how hard of heart the followers of Jesus could be! How slow, blind and hard of heart many of us still are!

Then again, Jesus himself comes across as rather hardhearted in this passage. After the woman calls him “Son of David”—a title that indicates her belief that Jesus is the Messiah—he reminds her that the Messiah has come only for the lost sheep of Israel.  At this point the woman could have slunk quietly away, or screamed in outrage at Jesus. She refuses to sacrifice her dignity in either way. She’s come this far. She isn’t going back now. So she kneels at his feet. Its not passive submission I see here, but faith—in Jesus and in herself.

I always thought she simply ignored Jesus’ words. “I don’t care if I’m not an Israelite sheep—help me anyway!” But I wonder. Perhaps what she was actually saying was, “Can’t you see that I AM a lost sheep? Maybe Israel is more than just a plot of land. maybe God’s chosen includes more than just a few tribes. Maybe the kingdom is less about the right genetic code and more about the right relationship with God. And if it is—and if you are the Messiah—then help me!”  

I wonder if at that moment, Jesus thought, “Finally! Someone gets it.” 

Which is why I don’t think that the harsh sounding question that follows is really meant for the woman at all. Many argue that Jesus is struggling with his own prejudices—that this is a moment of revelation for him, in which he realizes his ministry is in fact to more than just Israel. I don’t agree. I think that while Jesus, being human, must have grown in wisdom and understanding just like anyone, he was also God. So I don’t believe Jesus held the same prejudices. Prior to this he had already healed two Gentiles, so I don’t think he saw this woman as a dog. I do believe that his disciples did, however—and that’s the problem.  

Jesus is speaking to the woman, but he’s really asking the disciples: Is it fair to take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs?  

I believe that when Jesus asks the question, the answer he wants—the answer he’s looking for—is, Lord, we’ve been with you long enough to know that in your kingdom, we are all God’s children. She is no ‘dog’ but our sister.”   

Sadly I think Jesus is still waiting for his followers to give him that answer.

This woman, who has finally found the courage to speak, is not about to wait for a bunch of men who have called her a dog her entire life to decide whether she’s worthy or not.  She knows she is, because she, unlike Jesus’ own disciples, seems to understand who it is she’s talking to. So she says: Even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.

So much lies behind these words. It is not just a witty retort but a profound challenge:

You guys keep saying that your God is Lord of the world. Are you telling me that your God is any less generous than earthly masters? Is your God really deaf to the cry of a mother, because of her religion or blind to a child’s suffering because of its skin colour? Is your God really so prejudiced as to justify cruelty towards anyone because of who they are? 

Does your God really call human beings “dogs”? Or is that just you?   

It’s not just the woman’s quick wit that impresses Jesus—her ability to cleverly turn a phrase. It’s her understanding and acceptance of God’s great generosity, something the disciples themselves are still struggling with.

“Woman, great is your faith,” Jesus says. And her daughter was healed instantly. After all, that’s why she’s there, putting up with all this name calling and theological debating.

That’s often the way it works, isn’t it?  

When it’s only ourselves suffering, we can stay silent. We can justify keeping our heads down and our mouths shut. But when staying silent threatens someone or something we love, suddenly we find the courage to speak. To protest. To challenge even those who claim to speak for God. For the sake of our children and grandchildren and generations yet to be born. As many do today on behalf of all those still excluded by racism, sexism, homophobia, or economic injustice—the Canaanite women and men and teenagers and children that we, in our own fear and prejudices, still want to silence. 

Do we, the disciples of Jesus today, respond any differently from those in the gospel passage? How do we keep in mind that there is enough feast to go around? How do we expand the seating to allow for even more to sit at God’s table?   

Perhaps it begins with remembering that we—God’s people, the body of Christ, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church—are also Gentiles. And that, brothers and sisters, makes us dogs as well. Dogs to whom God has given far more than crumbs, but seats at the table. Dogs who get to partake in the whole meal. Dogs who are loved, and welcomed and nourished by God because, as it turns out, we aren’t dogs at all, but God’s children.  

And if God has made space at his table for dogs like us, who wouldn’t God make room for?


CFETheNUEAEkaTK.jpg-largeThe Rev. Daniel Brereton is an Anglican priest in Toronto. This sermon originally appeared on his blog. Follow him (no, really—do it now) on Twitter at @RevDaniel.

If this is what a Christian nation looks like, then I don’t want to be a Christian.

We’re a nation that uses fear as justification for torture.

Despite the fact that, according to scripture, “perfect love casts out fear.”

We’re a nation worried more about whether torture was effective than whether it was moral, as if the objects of torture are somehow less than human.

Despite the fact that all humanity bears the divine imprint. Despite the fact that torturing human flesh is an assault on the image and likeness of God.

We’re a nation that held a mentally impaired man hostage, using him as leverage to extract information from a relative. We’re a nation of secret prisons, in which roughly a quarter of known detainees, perhaps more, were wrongfully held.

Despite the prophets’ condemnation of those who “deny justice to the innocent,” despite their warning that the Lord’s anger would burn hot against such people.

We’re a nation that engaged in simulated hangings, that forced detainees to stand—in their own excrement—for days at a time, and subjected them to a particularly vile technique called “rectal feeding.”

Despite the fact that Paul railed against those who “invent ways of doing evil”—a phrase that comes from a passage we love to quote, confident it was meant for someone else and not us. Which is to miss the whole point of Paul’s rhetoric.

We’re also a nation in which not all the hangings are simulated. We’re a nation that lynched thousands of blacks for “crimes” such as talking to white women. We’re a nation that continues to lynch unarmed black men—only, now we hide it behind a badge instead of a hood. We’re a nation where a black man can have the life choked out of him for allegedly selling cigarettes. We’re a nation where blacks and whites experience two radically different forms of “justice.”

Despite scripture’s declaration that there are no longer any ethnic or social divisions among the faithful—which seems to be more a statement of aspiration than reality.

We’re a nation that threatened to harm the children of detainees, that threatened to rape one detainee’s mother and to slit the throat of another. We’re a nation that told one man he could never be released alive because “we can never let the world know what [we] have done to you.”

Despite Isaiah’s harsh words for those who “go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, ‘Who sees us? Who will know?’ ” Such people, Isaiah says, are far from God.

Yet God help us if someone doesn’t wish us a Merry Christmas this season. Because we’re a Christian nation, after all.

We twitch with manufactured rage if so much as one underpaid Gap clerk greets us with a “happy holidays” (which is to say, happy holy days, but never mind). We call it the “War on Christmas,” and we allow it to distract us from the very real war being waged on our humanity.

We are the persecutors thinking we’re the persecuted.

We may have managed to keep Christ in Christmas, but we have shut him out from everywhere else. We’ve shut him out of our justice system. We’ve shut him out of our secret prisons. We’ve shut him out of the immigration debate.

It’s funny how we insist on being a Christian nation, yet we are so quick to dismiss the teachings of Christ as irrelevant or impractical when it comes to the “war on terror,” the torture debate, or other issues that are fundamental to human dignity. But we will not rest until our annual orgy of consumerism is baptized in religious garb.

If this is what it means to be a Christian nation, then I want no part of it.

Tamir Rice and the rationalization of systemic racism

He should’ve just gotten on the sidewalk.

He shouldn’t have resisted.

He shouldn’t have been playing with a fake gun.

These are the excuses we use to rationalize the murder of unarmed black males by those sworn to protect. They’re the excuses we use to deny the systemic racism that pervades our society—a society where black teens are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than whites, a society where blacks receive longer prison sentences than whites for the SAME CRIMES (HT Qasim Rashid), a society where you can’t even get a grand jury indictment in a death the medical examiner ruled a homicide.

The double standard is breathtaking.

Like Tamir Rice, gunned down by police for playing with a fake gun. The police cruiser that came careening up to him (honestly, how would you have reacted?) barely came to a stop when Officer Timothy Loehmann opened fire, killing the 12 year-old boy.

As I watched the footage of Tamir’s murder (let’s call it what it is, shall we?), all I could think was, I played with fake guns as a kid. And I never had to fear for my life.

Of course I didn’t.

No police vehicles ever came charging at me, cops barreling out the door with guns blazing.

None of my neighbors ever entertained the possibility that the toy gun in my hands was anything but a toy.

None of them mistook me for a grown man, either. The police officer who killed Tamir Rice reported that he was 20 years old. (He was 12.) It’s a well-established fact that police officers routinely mistake black boys as older than they really are (HT Kristen Howerton). Because that’s what happens in a society that tolerates pervasive bias against blacks, mostly by pretending it doesn’t exist.

I never had to worry about someone mistaking my toy gun for a real one because I was a white kid living in a white neighborhood. White privilege meant my friends and I could brandish our toy guns (some of which looked real enough) in public without fear of being shot dead.

White privilege also means white gun lovers can brandish their weapons on streets and in restaurants, they can harass anyone who questions their right to do so, they can even plan marches through predominantly black neighborhoods—all without so much as a raised eyebrow from police. Some even laud these open carry zealots as heroes.

If you’re a black kid playing with a fake gun, it’s a capital offense. If you’re a white guy brandishing a loaded semiautomatic in public, it’s your constitutional right.

Do you still want to argue that systemic racism is a thing of the past?

It’s time we see the double standard for what it is. It’s time we acknowledge that racism doesn’t always wear a hood. Sometimes it comes dressed in a suit, to paraphrase Duke University sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. It’s time that those of us who are white realize that we benefit from an unjust system—one in which police can kill unarmed black males with impunity. And so long as we say and do nothing about it, we’re guilty of perpetuating that system.

Photos: Cleveland.com, Mother Jones

White people don’t want to talk about Ferguson. Which is why we need to.

Let’s be honest. Most of us who are white don’t want to face what’s happening in Ferguson.

We don’t want to be confronted by anything that might disrupt our carefully constructed narrative which says we already took care of racism in this country. I mean, hey, we have a black president, right?

Yet here we are in a country where blacks and whites use marijuana at about the same rate. Guess which group is 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for it? Blacks are significantly more likely to be pulled over, and they are sentenced to more time in jail for the same crimes.

And of course, black young men are more likely to be killed by police (or vigilantes), then tried in the court of public opinion. Kendrec McDade. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. John Crawford. And of course Michael Brown.

We’ve heard all these facts before. They’ve been on a recurring loop since the media began reporting the terrible events in Ferguson. Yet according to a study from the Pew Research Center, only 37 of whites say Michael Brown’s shooting raises racial issues, compared to 80 percent of blacks.

When you see a police force that is 94% white fire tear gas and rubber bullets at a population that is 67% black, it raises racial issues. When the images out of Ferguson look like something out of the Deep South fifty years ago, it raises racial issues. To say otherwise is to live in a particularly toxic form of denial.

The Pew Research Center also asked about the police response to the protests. Only a third of whites think the police went too far in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting.

Only a third think armored vehicles rolling down the streets of Ferguson is going too far.

Only a third think police dressed in camouflage (for some inexplicable reason) waving military-grade assault weapons at unarmed civilians is going too far.

Only a third think lobbing tear gas and stun grenades at civilians—the very citizens they’re supposed to protect—is going too far.

Only a third think threatening reporters and calling protestors “f*****g animals” is going too far.

Only a third think treating black civilians like enemy combatants is going too far.

We have a problem. And the problem is that we won’t even accept that there’s a problem.

There can be no justice, no resolution, no reconciliation until those of us who’ve been blinded by our privilege come out from our gated communities and our artificially constructed realities and listen—really listen—to the experience of being black in America.

We don’t want to talk about Ferguson. Which is precisely why we have to.

Image via Medium.com.