Honoring Juneteenth at Reservoir Church

On June 19, 1865, over two months after the Confederate surrender, U.S. troops in Galveston, Texas announced to over 250,000 enslaved Black people in that state, that they were now free. The next year, churches in Texas began celebrating June 19th as a day of liberation, calling it Juneteenth. From there, celebrations spread and grew over the years, to become what some people call America’s second independence day. It is a day to commemorate the end of the enslavement of Black Americans and to celebrate Black culture and history. 

In 2021, the United States adopted Juneteenth as a national, federal holiday. Some people celebrate this as another important accomplishment for equity and inclusion. It’s important to have days to tell the truth about our country’s long, slow progress in achieving its stated ideals of liberty and justice for all. And it’s invaluable to have opportunities to center and celebrate the culture and stories of Black Americans. Other people have more complicated feelings about the holiday. Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday, just as parts of America have been eliminating and censoring Black history and culture from public schools. Most of the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement remain unaddressed. I’ve heard more than one friend express: we wanted justice, and instead, we got another holiday.

Reservoir Church seeks to honor both aspects of this holiday. We see Juneteenth as an opportunity to celebrate and center Black people and culture and take joy in our victories in achieving greater freedom and flourishing in our lives and communities. After all, our vision is that many people in Cambridge, Greater Boston, and beyond are connecting with Jesus and our church in deep ways. We embrace the good news that is often centered in African American theology; that God’s call for humankind is not only for personal spiritual uplift and hope in the afterlife but for greater liberation, justice, and thriving for our spirits, our bodies, and our communities in this life. Juneteenth is an opportunity for us to celebrate this vision of the Kingdom of God as Beloved Community for us all

Juneteenth isn’t only a celebration of freedom stories in our past. It’s an opportunity to reflect upon the ongoing realities of injustice in our society and the freedom stories we want to struggle to achieve. Since our founding in 1998, Reservoir has been a multiracial church. Over the years since then, we have made increasing commitments to equity, diversity, and inclusion, as we seek to be a community of profound belonging for all of our diverse members and as we seek to embody God’s big dreams for more just communities and for diverse expressions of human kinship and worship. 

Juneteenth is one of the many Sundays when we think about these big dreams. On Sunday, June 16th, we will celebrate Juneteenth through the food we serve, the music we sing, and in the spoken word poetry around the freedom journey of one of our Haitian American members. A new friend of Reservoir, Reverend Darrell Hamilton, will preach at our 9:30 am in-person service on “The Invisible Man” and at our 11:00 am online service on “God in the Ghetto.” 

Join Us for Our Juneteenth Celebration Service!

On Sunday, June 23rd, we will announce some of the ways we continue pursuing equity, diversity, and inclusion as a church, including how we will plan for more of this in our Sunday worship services in the year to come. This church will continue to honor the stories, the culture, and the contributions of all our diverse community members, as we try to forge a beautiful community of belonging for all people. We will continue to strive with God and one another for communities of greater freedom and justice for all people, as we work toward the birth of a new age of Beloved Community, when all humans live together in peace and equity, as brothers, sisters, and siblings in God’s good creation. 

Our Work for Housing Justice

You may be aware that over the past year, Reservoir Church has played a significant role in a public organizing campaign for great housing justice in Massachusetts. Perhaps you’ve noticed that this is a very expensive area to rent or to buy a home. Sadly for me as a pastor, I’ve had conversations over the years with many of you who have wondered if the cost of housing is too high for you to want to stay in the area long-term. 

Throughout the network we are in, Greater Boston Interfaith, there have been thousands of similar conversations, asking what we can do to make housing more affordable and accessible for more of us. We’ve learned about the dramatic underfunding of public housing throughout this state, often resulting in unsafe or downright deplorable living conditions. We’ve listened to the struggles of formerly incarcerated individuals to find housing or even get state IDs as they seek to rebuild a life for themselves. And we’ve confronted restrictive, discriminatory zoning laws in our communities that were set up decades ago to keep communities whiter or wealthier. 

One of our pastors, Rev. Lydia Shiu, has been an instrumental leader in this work, organizing tirelessly behind the scenes and speaking in front of the state house and at other large events. Press coverage from a 1,700 person gathering Lydia co-chaired early this month can be found in The Boston Globe and the Dorchester Reporter. Over 80 of you turned out for that gathering, making us the second-best represented congregation in all of Greater Boston. 

Our Faith into Action core team has also strived tirelessly to engage our church and our public representatives in this work. They’ve helped organize and run large public meetings with state elected officials, both at Reservoir and in other locations.

Today, I got a turn to get out and do something in this campaign as well. I presented a letter that I co-wrote and that was signed by 155 Massachusetts clergy, asking our elected officials to take action in this legislative cycle. In addition to sharing this letter with you, I thought you might enjoy reading another sample of how we can talk about our faith values in the interfaith or secular settings most of us spend most of our time living in. 

Here’s a short excerpt from my testimony today, before the House and Senate Ways and Means committees. 

This letter written by me and other leaders in GBIO was signed, in less than a week, by 155 Massachusetts clergy – a multi-faith, multi-race, urban and suburban collective of religious leaders.

Why clergy? We are not experts on housing policy or affordability. So why hear from so many clergy, with unanimous moral clarity, on the action we need you take on housing? 

Well, it’s because our clergy are teachers, caregivers, organizers, and leaders in faith communities that touch the lives of millions of Massachusetts residents. Millions of us. Over half of adults in Massachusetts engage with our state’s religious communities, somewhere between a few times a year and multiple times per week.

And one thing we are doing in our congregations is exploring a different way of being human. We’re exploring ways of being a person that aren’t defined first by our wealth, our community of residence, our home ownership status, our career field or success – or all the other things that are so important to our lives and identities in our economy.

Take my church for instance. Every week, a few hundred people interact there. We have tenured university professors, prominent physicians, C-suite leaders in major businesses and nonprofits in the area who are socializing, and worshiping side by side, eating and serving the community alongside residents of public housing, uber drivers, foster moms, disabled residents, and so on. As if those differences do not matter. How many places do we have like this?

Our religious communities are places where residents of our state find community and meaning and purpose where they are defined not by their resumes or net worth, but by their faith that they are children of God with an important place in the beloved community that we are called to create together, community where we belong, where we have just opportunities to flourish, and where we have basic goods like secure, safe, healthy housing, not because we’re lucky but because we’re human. 

This experience of mattering, of belonging, and of the opportunity to make good lives for ourselves not because of our class or privilege, but because we’re part of the human family in this state – these ideals speak to the best aspirations of our country and our Commonwealth.  

It’s true, friends, that we have a lot of work to do to make Greater Boston’s communities more accessible and affordable, for us and for the diverse communities we – and I believe God – would love to see flourish here.

And it’s true that church is an incredible space to be together where we aren’t defined by all the stuff our economy and our status-conscious world ranks us on, up or down. We are children of God – no one higher, no one lower. And we are in this world, and in these lives, together. We need each other. And we all matter. We all matter to ourselves. We all matter to one another. And we all matter deeply to the living God as well. 
Oh, and I’ve been asked to share with you that this blog was ranked as one of Boston’s 20 best Christian blogs and websites. I can’t necessarily endorse all the others, but there we are, friends.

Which Creation Story Do You Need Today?

Every Saturday, I sit in a circle with some friends from my church and together we study the Bible. We pay attention to what encourages and inspires us, as well as the many things that frustrate and befuddle us. We read and talk about these texts because they’re one place we go for wisdom and direction and we follow the way of Jesus. 

This past weekend we read the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, paying particular attention to the relationship of humans to the rest of creation. 

Reading the first chapter of Genesis, more than one of us found some of it to be problematic. The author writes that humans are created in God’s image and quotes God talking to Godself, saying that humans should “take charge” of all other life on earth and should “master it.” We talked about our species’ habits of dominion: the enormous harm we’ve done to so much of the earth and so many of its species. In recent centuries, we have looked less like the loving, humble caretakers the writers of this account imagined and more like self-destructive tyrants, consuming and exploiting without regard to the welfare of the earth or our descendants.

Turning to the second creation passage in Genesis 2, we wondered if this is the creation story more of us need today. In Genesis 1, humans are made out of nothing, summoned the very speech of God. But in Genesis 2, humans are made from the ground. In the Bible’s first creation story, humans rule over the earth. In the second, we are, like everything else, made of the earth. In the first creation story, humans are the gods over creation. In the second, we are the farmers – keepers of seed, cultivators of ground, entrusted with enjoying and sustaining life. 

Some people need more of the first creation story in their life. A recent asylee I know in my city has been repeatedly abused by this country’s criminal justice system. Few people on earth know his name. Fewer have shown any commitment to his rights and his dignity. This friend deserves to know that he bears God’s image, that his birthright is love, respect, and authority over a bit of good work, a patch of beautiful earth.

But most of us, children of capitalists and colonialists that we are, might also need a reminder that we are made of the same stuff as the rest of the earth. We are connected to and depend upon the earth for the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the very substance of our bodies. It is not just us that are sacred, but all the earth, which is crying out for us to treat it with gratitude and care.

Gods upon the earth or earthy creatures ourselves? Which creation story calls to you today?

For more discussion of these texts and many others, go to this year’s Lenten guide

Blessed are the Peacemakers – A Pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine

Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in a study tour hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. Every year or two, JCRC Boston takes some Christian clergy to Israel and Palestine to get to know the complexities of that land’s past, present, and future. Part of the tour is a visit to historical sites of the nation of Israel as well as sites of Biblical significance. 

For me, this trip proved to be a pilgrimage, an opportunity to journey out of my regular routines, deepen my prayer life, and seek the Spirit of Jesus anew. I thought about Jesus’ ministry of teaching, healing, and deliverance, as I swam in the sea of Galilee, dipped my feet in the Jordan River, and visited Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, and Jerusalem. When I saw the Temple Mount, I looked at the spot where the Court of Gentiles was located in the first century and could vividly picture Jesus, having ascended up the hill and through the gate, flipping the tables of commerce there, longing to restore a place of prayer for all nations. I then prayed at the Wailing Wall, part of the first century temple wall still standing, and knelt there, bringing my deepest longings to God through tears in this sacred space.  

I am aware, though, that this place holds different meanings for different people. For me, it was a place of Christian pilgrimage, as it has been for many others these past two millennia. For others, Jerusalem is a beautiful, ancient, somewhat exotic tourist destination. For some, it is a fascinating historical site where one can imagine the Biblical stories of the First Temple (Old Testament) and Second Temple (New Testament) periods come to life. For many Muslims, they see the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world, and the cite where Islam believes the prophet Adam was created and the prophet Muhammad began his great night journey of revelation. Many Jews see the absence of the Jewish temple and their inability to pray at the historic geographic center of their faith.

Our tour was not only spiritual pilgrimage but an invitation to consider different perspectives and the depth and intensity of the conflict in Israel and Palestine. We met with Palestinians and Israelis who in different ways are working to secure the safety and well-being of their own people or who are also working to secure just and lasting peace for all peoples of that land. 

Our group moved in and out of East and West Jerusalem, areas of that city that center either Jewish or Palestinian life and culture, and where different people live in rigid segregation. We went behind the wall to the West Bank, once part of Jordan, now occupied militarily by Israel but primarily home to Palestinians, who live there without nation, citizenship, or freedom. We traveled to the fence along the Gaza Strip and to the Golan Heights, by the borders of Lebanon and Syria. 

In these travels, we met with people and saw evidence of culture I can not fully comprehend or respect – ultra-orthodox religious conservatives in retreat from the complexities and diversity of the modern world, right wing Jewish settlers seeking to claim the West Bank for their people and country, and Palestinian militants who seek to claim to whole of the land for themselves and expel or marginalize the Jewish people. It was important for us to grapple with these experiences and worldviews, even if I can not understand and certainly can not endorse them.

We also met, though, with peacemakers whose bold actions for love and justice inspire. 

We met with two members of the Parents’ Circle, Israeli and Palestinian parents whose children have been killed in the conflict between their people. They have joined in grief groups with one another, have started intercultural summer camps for the siblings of their slain children, and educate others around the power of relationship across enmity and the possibilities for peace when we honor the dignity and humanity of our enemies.

We met with Mohammed Darawshe, the Director of Planning, Equality, and Shared Society with the Givat Haviva Center. Like 20% of his fellow Israeli citizens, Mohammed is a Palestinian Arab living in his ancestral hometown. He is a national leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion work that elevates the rights and standing of the Arab citizens of Israel.

We walked in Bethlehem with Rami Nazzal, an internationally published Palestinian journalist, to discuss the longings for freedom for the Palestinian people and the possibilities of securing freedom and justice without hating or seeking to eliminate the Jewish people. We also walked with Jewish activists for Palestinian land rights in East Jerusalem and ate with young Jewish environmental justice and food access entrepreneurs, to consider what solidarity and peacemaking from a position of privilege looks like. 

As an outsider to the particulars of this space, I could only weep and rejoice with these singularly courageous and bold peacemakers, marveling at their courage and ingenuity and hope, as they seek to bring into being the ancient prophet vision of a world where “the wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat,” where “they won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain,” but instead where “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as water covers the sea.” (excerpts from Isaiah 11)

As an American disciple of Jesus, I also was haunted and inspired by Jesus’ words, “Happy are people who make peace, for they will be called God’s children.” As I shared this past Sunday, I believe the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 not only introduce Jesus’ greatest teaching on ethics and the good life, but are a pathway toward following Christ and to the survival and flourishing of the human race. 

I wonder where the peacemakers are among us, those of us who doggedly look for the dignity and humanity of our enemies, both personal and political. I ask Jesus for love and perseverance in making peace with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and family members where conflicts have strained or distanced us. And I hope for a movement among Jesus’ followers to not minimize the conflicts of our nation at war with itself but to imaginatively and charitably and humbly learn to share space and pursue just peace amidst our differences.

GBH’s All Things Considered

Recently I had the opportunity to be part of GBH’s All Things Considered and discussed Reservoir’s diversity, our commitment to inclusion, and as a Jesus-centered community, embracing the vision of Beloved Community for all. Here’s the link and the transcript is below.

Offering a ‘liberative tradition’ at a Cambridge church in the face of anti-LGBTQ discrimination

The Reservoir Church in Cambridge is typically described as Jesus centered, initially associated with the vineyard association of churches. But Reservoir Church separated from the association in 2015 after experiencing pressures to limit their involvement of LGBTQ+ people.

In light of Pride month and the rising discrimination queer people are facing right now, All Things Considered invited Reservoir Church’s senior pastor, Steve Watson, to speak with host Arun Rath about bringing together an inclusive and diverse congregation, and offering counsel in difficult times.

Arun Rath: Steve, thanks for joining us.

Steve Watson: It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Rath: Now, Reservoir Church ultimately made this decision to separate itself from the parent church. Tell us about the tension there, how your church came to what must have been a difficult decision?

Watson: Sure. You know, our church is not actually that old of a church. We had only started in the 1990s, but we had experienced some explosive growth and we had become a large church rather quickly. And like any large organization, you know, we held a lot of viewpoints on a lot of things, including the range of what exists within the Christian tradition — of those that take rather conservative or traditional perspectives on a small number of restrictive biblical texts and that don’t embrace the full expression of LGBTQ love and relationships. As well of those that would assume that we were moving in a more and more kind of liberative path for that community.

And we had to make some choices about the kind of community we wanted to be, the kind of church we wanted to be and what best represented our faith and values. And as you stated, it became important to us to say that our LGBTQ participants were going to experience a kind of full-fledged membership and dignity and affirmation of their presence and relationships as everyone else was. And, you know, that involved making some choices to be free to do that.

Rath: The church describes itself as Jesus centered. Could you explain what that means generally, but also how your sense of being Jesus centered led you to this decision?

Watson: Yeah, that’s a great question, thanks, Arun. I think, one, it means, I guess, that we’re in the Christian tradition. But maybe just the word “church” would have carry that. I think we say Jesus centered to signal a few things. One, that though we take sort of a number of progressive social values — I guess people would call it — we’re very interested in this vibrant, spiritual tradition and life that we’re part of, and we’re very interested in being a community that continues to read and pay attention to the ancient but timeless teachings of Jesus to guide us.

And I think for us, while there are things in the Christian tradition that are an obstacle to becoming a fully LGBTQ-inclusive community — I’m well aware that I serve within and live and practice a tradition that has been an oppressive force in a number of ways, including toward the LGBTQ community. But as far as being a Jesus-centered tradition, we see the teaching of Jesus as anchored in love, love for our Creator, God, love for our neighbor as ourselves and a tradition that at its best — historically and today still — is a liberative tradition that affirms that dignity and the relationships and the opportunity to love oneself, to love one’s neighbor, to love God for all people.

And so I think being in that tradition, at its best, centers love and justice, has led us to be the kind of fully inclusive church for the whole community that we seek to be.

Rath: And tell us about about your congregation in particular. It’s very diverse when it comes to race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Tell us how this congregation came together. How did you come to be so diverse in your particular church?

Watson: Yeah, I mean, thank you. I’m biased, I’m pastor of the community, but I do [think it’s] a beautiful community. We say every week, just as we do on our website, that this is a place where everyone, without exception, is invited to discover the love of God, the gift of community, the joy of living. And we take that “everyone without exception” really seriously. I think we do some things in our staffing, in our program, in our teaching to be explicit about the dignity, the value, the tremendous transcendent worth of all God’s children, as we would say. And I think we’ve had the grace to be in a city as diverse and rich as we are, and to just not put up obstacles to the full diversity of our city being expressed within our congregation.

Rath: I was just in Oregon and talking with a dear old friend about: there have been an awful hate-related shooting there. And one of the things that came up was people who are marginalized need special counsel right now more than ever, right? I imagine that must be something that you’re experiencing. And could you talk about that a little bit?

Watson: The past number of years have been incredibly stressful. Certainly this time of pandemic has been stressful for all people. But let’s be real: the time of the Trump administration, this time of escalating culture wars, this time [for] various members of our community, both for issues around white supremacy, homophobic, anti-LGBTQ violence. These have been threatening, volatile and scary times for so many.

Someone in my shoes — as a pastor in our own way, like others and helping professions — we’re called toward good listening, toward to try to kind of offer of counsel and friendship to others is very important this time. I would say that what we see, mostly as a faith community, is how much we all — and particularly those of us whose identities are under threat in various ways — we all need to experience communities of a profound belonging. And I think certainly all these things we’re talking about: a pandemic, that deeper and deeper unveiling of and awareness of white supremacy and race-based hatred and violence, anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence. These all threaten a lot of things, but they certainly threaten people’s sense of belonging. And one of the great things a healthy faith community can do, that uplifts people’s dignity rather than leads them to shame or strips them of it, is to give people a sense of deep and profound belonging. And want [a] group that is often more age-diverse and identity-diverse than they would find elsewhere. And so it’s it’s a real treasure for us as a church to experience and offer that to one another.

Rath: Before we let you go — it’s been great speaking with you. But I also want to ask if there’s anything — I know it’s part of the message of Jesus, right, is embracing those who have been cast out. I wonder if there’s any other message you wanted to leave with the community at large, before we let you go?

Watson: Yeah, absolutely. I think for those of us in religious communities or that come from religious heritage, most of our religious and faith communities have elements of their practice and tradition which have been oppressive. And for some of us, those have been harmful and painful to us in various ways. And most of our traditions, certainly mine — the Christian tradition with its centering of of love, with this expression of what the teaching of Jesus, the civil rights leaders came to call “a vision of beloved community.” Our traditions have tremendous liberative power, as well. And so it’s important for me — as a pastor for Reservoir, as a church — to represent and practice the most liberative parts of our tradition. And I certainly hope that all the beautiful children of God throughout our city will find where they need it, places that support their belonging and their own journey toward liberation. We’re certainly happy to be one place that’s part of that story for folks.

Rath: Steve, it’s been wonderful speaking with you. Thank you.

Watson: Oh, great pleasure. Thanks for having us on.

Rath: That’s Steve Watson, senior pastor at Reservoir Church in Cambridge. This is GBH’s All Things Considered.

How and Why to Pray the Examen

There is an old form of prayer called the Examen. It was first developed by the 15th century Spanish mystic Igancio de Loyola, who commended the priests in his growing movement called the Society of Jesus to pray this way every day. For a few years, I’ve been praying versions of this prayer daily myself. And this summer, I’m sharing that experience with a small group at Reservoir. 

If it interests you, here is how and why to pray the Examen. 

How to Pray the Examen

  1. Acknowledge presence and ask for God’s guidance.

Take a slow breath and remember God is with you. Whisper aloud if you can: you are with me, God. Ask for God to deepen your insight and wisdom. You are about to pray in the spirit of Psalm 139, seeking to know and be known, in all your beauty and troubles, just as you are already fully known by God. 

  1. Review your day.

Think about what you have experienced and felt throughout the day. (You can pray this way in the morning or the evening, considering either yesterday or the day that is coming to a close.) Identify any experiences in which life seems to be flowing more, and any where life is diminishing. This is a little different than highs and lows. You may have an experience of sadness, but one in which you felt really alive and connected. You may have accomplished something, but that accomplishment left you surprisingly empty. We’re looking to notice experiences in which we became more alive, which are likely times in which we are growing closer to God. And we’re looking to notice experiences in which we became less alive, which may be times in which we were moving away from God. (Ignatian spirituality calls this consolation and desolation.)

  1. Reflect on, talk to God about what you notice.

Pay attention to what you are noticing and learning. What do you have to say about these things? You may be helped by prayers of thank you, sorry, or please.

  • Thank you – gratitude to God or others for gifts, blessings, connection.
  • Sorry – letting God know how you lost your way, perhaps realizing you owe someone else an apology
  • Please – asking God for insight, guidance, help with things you are experiencing.
  1. Look forward to the day to come, with hope, resolution, and prayer.

Think and pray a bit about the day to come. Share your hopes with God. If you want to resolve to live differently in any way, feel free to do so. Ask God for whatever you or others in your life need.

Why to Pray the Examen

  1. Over time, you’ll discover God in all things.

The trademark phrase of Ignatian spirituality is the discovery of God in all things. The Examen invites us to notice how the Spirit of God has been with us each day and notice how we and others in our life either partnered with the Spirit of God or missed the moment. But over time, we notice more and more how God is always with us all, loving us and wooing us toward ever more just, creative, loving lives. 

  1. It’s a powerful tool for personal growth.

It is widely known that regular, structured self-reflection is one of the most powerful ways to grow in any area of life. The Examen offers just that opportunity, and it does so bathing the experience in gratitude, awareness of God’s presence, and prayer. The Examen can be a means to not only connect with God but to partner with God in growing an ever-more purposeful, meaningful, valuable life. 

  1. It can be endlessly adapted. 

The Examen is an old form or prayer and a flexible one that can be adapted to suit many purposes. On our blog you can a daily examen for living as an anti-racist person, co-written by Reservoir member and spiritual director Vernee Wilkinson. Last year, I wrote an examen for the long season of the pandemic. There are examen apps, including one I’ve used called Reimagining the Examen. The goal isn’t to pray the Examen the “right” way, but to use it as a guide however you are led.

Buffalo, The Church and the Call for Beloved Community

Drive seven hours west from Cambridge along route 90, and you’ll arrive in the working class, lake-side city of Buffalo, teeming with life. Were it in Massachusetts, it would be the second largest city in New England. Along the way, you’ll drive north of a little town called Conklin, where a young man grew into a violent white supremacist, so much so that he travelled to Buffalo last weekend with the intent to kill Black Americans. He drove to Tops Friendly Market in East Buffalo, a mostly Black working class neighborhood, where there was much to love and celebrate. Tops was the only grocery store around, in what would have otherwise been a food desert. Its existence was a triumph of community organizing, entrepreneurship, and American food distribution systems. Instead of wonder and abundance though, the city’s visitor was consumed with bitterness, entitlement, resentment, and violence. He opened fire, killing ten, injuring more. 

Ruth Whitfield had just visited her husband in his nursing home. Aaron Salter, Jr. was working a shift as a security guard, after a recent retirement from the Buffalo Police Department. Heyward Patterson was loading groceries into the car for a client he was driving. Andre Mackneil was out buying a cake for his three year old son, Margus Morrison buying snacks for a family movie night. Pearl Young knew food distribution well, as she’d been running a food pantry for twenty years. Geraldine Talley and Celestine Chaney were both grandmothers. Roberta Drury had been helping her brother recover from cancer. Katherine Massey had just been dropped off by her brother, one of the many in her large extended family. All ten of them were shot and killed, victims of a violent, racist rampage. All ten of them were image bearers of the living God, enfleshed reflections of the beauty and vitality of their creator. God weeps with their families now. 

The cancer of gun violence in America is not new. Each year, we hear of and read about dozens, perhaps hundreds of victims of shootings – mass shootings, suicides, domestic murders, police shootings, and more. The cancer of racial violence and white supremacy in America is even older, with us from the first days of a nation littered with the traumas of slavery, genocide, forced migrations, mass incarceration, lynchings, and manifold hate crimes that enfold before our eyes still. 

Christians have a decidedly mixed record in our history of racism and white supremacist violence. Most leading abolitionists in the 19th century were Christians. America’s great civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s was birthed in and led by the Black church. Movements of liberation throughout the colonized world found courage for their fights for freedom in theologies of God’s solidarity with oppressed peoples. The New Testament itself proclaims God made known in human flesh in the birth of a brown-skinned, colonized, Jewish refugee and contains a letter that celebrates the faith and dignity of a runaway slave, insisting on his freedom. 

And yet American slaveholders were also mostly Christians, supported by expressions of Christian faith that insisted that this was all God’s will. Most white churches sat on the sidelines of struggles for civil rights in the 20th century, or actively resisted them. Movements of colonial liberation were necessary because Christians proclaimed that the colonization of the world, including the violence and slavery and cultural erasures involved, was the holy duty of baptized Christians. Even in the 21st century, if you’re a white and a Christians , you’re more likely to be resist immigration, more likely to hold anti-Asian and anti-Black and anti-Jewish stereotypes and resentments, and more likely to prefer white history and white culture and white people than if you are white and non-religious. 

The problem isn’t the faith itself. The faith of Jesus is one of healing and liberation, celebrating the created dignity of all humans and the infinite, redemptive beauty and possibilities in all people and all cultures. The problem is the culture of white supremacy that festers around many forms of white Christians culture, and the even greater prominence of apathy and disinterest among even more Christians and churches.

Given this context and history, it is the call of every white pastor and every white Christian in this country to specifically and clearly reject and denounce all forms of white supremacy. People of color manifest the image and glory of God every bit as much as those of us who are called white. Asian Americans, Black Americans, Latin Americans belong in this country and have a right to liberty and flourishing every bit as much as the descendants of Europeans. And let’s be frank: Native Americans’ claims to belonging and these rights are doubly, triply, infinitely stronger. 

As Jesus began his ministry, John the Baptizer quoted the prophets to say he was preparing the way, that every valley be lifted up and every mountain be made low, that all flesh could see the glory of God together. None made lower, none seeking to be higher, all flesh together. This is the anti racist, beloved community call of every disciple of Jesus and every church that bears his name. It is to stop centering and preferring the history, the culture, the theology, and the privilege of those who for centuries, churches have lifted up too high. And it is to humbly learn from and celebrate and center and prize the history, the culture, the theology, and the beauty of those who for centuries, churches have sought to make or keep low. 

All flesh – the Black flesh of grieving families in Buffalo, the Asian flesh of grandmothers terrified to walk alone in our cities, the queer flesh scorned and rejected by churches and families, even white flesh that was never meant to be elevated or centered – yearns to see the glory of God together. Those that bear the name of the risen Christ, keeper of the beautiful vision of beloved community for us all, dare hope and strive for nothing less.

A Time for Healing

This spring, Reservoir Church’s sermon series is called “How to Heal the World.” 

It’s kind of a cheeky, overstated title, but it came out of a series of conversations and reflections I had this winter about how sick and tattered our world is, how that’s impacting us, and the opportunity for something redemptive in that for followers of Jesus.

Our world has become sick with so many things – sick with violence, sick with racism, sick with sickness, and fear, and mistrust, and division and more. And all that’s not just far off, it’s not just abstraction. It touches our lives and relationships as well. And I’ve been wondering: what does it mean to worship and follow a loving, hopeful God who is always seeking to mend, to repair, to make things whole? And how can we find our own good, our own healing, our own salvation through participating in the healing work of God in our times? 

There’s a Jewish phrase for this work. It’s tikkun olam, “repair of the world.” This rabbinc wisdom is cited with gratitude and reverence by Muslims in the Quran as well. “Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world.” 

Our world needs nothing less than this. And with the help of God and friends, this healing, mending, repair, and salvation is in our grasp.

So we collect here some calls to mending and healing from these spring messages:

Gratitude Letters*

From “Small Steps Toward Big Salvation” (4/24/22)

Write a letter of thanks to a friend, colleague, family member, or stranger. Be as specific and appreciative as possible. Before giving them the letter, ask if you can read it aloud to them. 

Praying for Your Six

From “Small Steps Toward Big Salvation” (4/24/22)

Pray regularly for the blessing and well-being of six local people whose name you know but who may not share your faith in God. 

Drop Your Stones

From “What to Do with People You Can’t Stand” (5/1/22) 

Cultivate attitudes of non-judgemental respect toward your enemies and others you can’t stand. Allow yourself to be angry, but ask God’s help in never holding others in contempt. Ask not just what you hate about an enemy but what in them it is possible to love. 

Make Better Apologies

From “The Good News Opportunity of Reparations” (5/8/22)

Whenever you say, sorry, make sure you first tell the truth about what happened. Then offer to make things right in some way or ask the person you’re apologizing to if there is anything you can do to make things right. Tell the truth. Apologize. Offer amends. That’s how to say sorry.

A Vision for Church

From “The Role of the Church in Healing the World” (5/15/22)

Get and stay as engaged as possible in a community of people looking to respond together to the teaching and vision of Jesus. Usually, but not always, this community is called “church.” Let that community help you remember how much we all matter to God and one another and how much God matters to us. And regularly offer you time, treasure, and talents together in the service of the world’s blessing, mending, repair, and healing.

Cultivate Humility

From “Humility” (5/22/22)

Cultivate humility in your life: commitments to unlearning, not just learning, commitments to curiosity and companionship and questions when you’re tempted to superiority, judgment, or fear.

*Inspired by our North Indian friends and partners from Asha.  

“The Messing Up Hair Sermon”

I wanted to follow up on this past Sunday’s sermon I preached titled, “Love is mussing up someone’s hair” as a metaphor for how God lovingly and intimately engages us. This is a personal response, but also since our pastoral team discusses our work together, I thought it would be interesting for a community to read a response from three pastors on our team, one Asian-American, one Black, and one White.

We saw in the chats a few of you share your experiences of someone trying to mess your hair as a person who is bald or as a person of color, saying “don’t touch my curly hair.” In that moment I realized, “Oh no! I did not think of that!” and I felt bad for using a metaphor that didn’t relate to all of our varied experiences. And in that moment, I felt grateful that some of you felt comfortable enough to say something, to say ‘well that’s not my experience’ and for others to chime in with the conversation about it. And/or, there might have been some of you who felt uncomfortable, triggered, or unseen and for that I’d like to apologize as your pastor. 

I learned and realized a few things through that, that I wanted to share with you. I remembered how important it is to listen to people’s experiences. And how in our lived experience, especially for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), who are peppered with traumatic or triggering experiences because much of the world is centered on white experiences. I realized as an Asian-American woman, how I am influenced and immersed in a culture that centers white normative experiences, for example a Charlie Brown book that’s originally published in 1965! And also how I have so many blind spots.

It also reminded me how important representation is for such reasons like this. How hearing our own cultures or experiences from the front or the front page can be so powerful. And the work that it takes to bridge that gap is continually needed. That diversifying our sermon illustrations is critical. I was humbled to learn that again this week and grateful to have a community that expects a church that is safe, open, and inclusive. 

It was interesting to get sermon feedback in real time (sweating but smiling emoji here)! But I think it was good. New platform, new engagement, new ways to get things wrong, make mistakes, and learn and grow together! 🙂 

Thanks, Reservoir community, ya’ll keep it real. You keep me real. 



I had a likely 15 min conversation after Sunday’s service with my husband, a very nonchalant discussion around the metaphor of mussing up my hair.  We joked about the great “No, No” of touching a black woman’s hair, the generational stigma of it all.  As a black woman I’ve had to have very strong boundaries around me to keep me safe and maintain my dignity from those-and-that which have taken many unknowing and unjust liberties.  So I understand how the metaphor of mussying hair can be triggering, the assumed liberty of it all!

I thought of times living abroad where people took liberties with touching my hair which annoyed me and the children too, who were curious, and in whom I had loosened my boundaries a bit more.  But It’s a weight, trying to figure out where you’re truly seen and safe and a chore trying to manage the boundaries.   I wonder if Jesus who knows and sees me would know not to touch my hair in jest and if she did, if I’d be okay with it.  Because in my experience, Jesus has a way of doing things that touches and tears down the boundaries to get to the very heart of who we are and what we need…  To see, be accepted and to know me.   I imagine Jesus mussying up my hair in a room full of people who are otherwise stereotypically unsafe, judgmental, unwoke, a danger to my dark-brown-skinned, 4-C-haired-self –only to experience a love and acceptance that is beyond that plain. Now that is a glorious experience.   

I’m thankful for a team debrief where learning, growth and deep care for others was centered. I’m thankful for our discussions about how we can learn from this, how we can make sure we are doing well to consider diverse experiences so that all are feeling seen and welcome and known, even though we will likely falter along the way.   I’m thankful for the humility of our Pastor of Social Justice.  For I am reminded of the parable of the farmer who sows wheat into the field but there is also poison sowed in the field too, but during the harvest the poison is separated from the wheat.  I pray that the poison that has been planted for generations would be separated from all that is good, that we would continue to learn and grow and sow good things in one another and that the harvest would be abundant.



Sunday was an opportunity to learn, and also an opportunity for me to continue to unlearn much of what whiteness has taught me. White privilege is not something that I can shake from my feelings and behavior and be done with once and for all, it is a journey of ongoing work. Work that requires developing the willingness, attentiveness and skills continually to align my intent, action, and language in all settings. Sunday was a glaring example of not doing the work, of being misaligned. I am so sorry for my blindsightedness, for my inept use of language, and for the harm it caused. 

Jesus shows us how to make the pathways to him rich, expansive and multiplicative – by listening, knowing and honoring the voices around him. Our commitment and responsibility as pastors is to do the same – to keep open as many pathways to Jesus as possible, so that your story and your imagination can intersect with a loving, life-giving Jesus. I am sorry that Sunday we actively closed many of these pathways. While visible mending is also ongoing work, I hope that we can continue to learn, listen, unlearn, give and receive feedback, and stitch our way forward together.  If you would appreciate more time with any of us to reflect your experience, concerns, or ideas – please reach out: lydia@reservoirchurch.org, trecia@reservoirchurch.org, ivy@reservoirchurch.org


Have a Relational Meeting!

Last month, I took a walk on a sunny, early winter’s day. I was with a person new to our church community who had reached out over twitter to say hello. We talked a bit about where we come from – our families and hometowns and professional stories. We talked a little bit about where we are today – why I’m a pastor at Reservoir and what I like about the place, how my new friend likes his life these days and why he’s looking into our church. And we talked a very little bit about where we are going – some hopes we each have for our lives this year and beyond. While our backgrounds are very different, we found we have some similarities to our personalities and some similar hopes for what the Christian faith could more and more become in this country. I can’t speak for the other person, but by the end of our hour walking, I really wanted to know this person more. I hoped I’d be his pastor and we’d have opportunities to know each other better. 

I have conversations like this a lot. Sometimes they are with people visiting or getting to know our church. Sometimes they are with longtime members of our community with whom I don’t have a deep relationship yet. And sometimes they are with fellow clergy or other community members throughout our city. There’s nothing strategic or timely about these conversations. They’re simply one-time opportunities to know and be known a little more. And simple and seemingly insignificant as conversations like this may seem, I think they are incredibly important.

In the interfaith organizing world I am a part of, these conversations are called relational meetings. They are when two people meet – in person, over zoom, over the phone, while walking – it doesn’t matter. Two people meet for between thirty minutes and an hour to simply know part of each other’s stories. That’s it. To matter to one another. 

It’s a one-time thing. There’s no obligation to have a follow-up meeting or conversation unless that happens naturally. There’s no obligation to become good friends. It’s simply a practice of knowing and being known, of forming a wide network of people in your life that you know and care about in some way, and who know and care about you in some way. 

In social justice organizing, we have these relational meetings a lot because they form networks of people who’ll show up for one another when we need each other. 

In a church we do this because it makes us more of a church too, a place where we know and are known, where we all matter.

Reservoir is inviting its participants to have three 1 on 1 relational meetings this winter with another member of the Reservoir community you don’t know well already. You’d say to someone else in this community: hey, the church is inviting us to have three relational meetings. Can we have one? Or someone will ask you that. And then here’s what you do.

  1. Anyone is free to say yes or no. Some of us are more introverted. Some of us are busier.  Some of us won’t want to participate in this for whatever reason. All that is fine. 
  2. If you ask someone and they say yes, or if someone else asks you and you say yes, set a time and how you’re going to talk – over the phone, over google meet, outdoors on a walk, whatever. Plan on forty minutes to an hour.
  3. And then when you have the time, each of you just share a little bit of your story with the other. You can respond and ask questions and all – it’s meant to be a natural conversation. But each of you share. 
  4. If you’re not sure what to talk about, here’s the prompt I encourage you to use. Share something about where you come from, something about where you are today, and something about where you think you’re going. These could be very concrete – like talking about the town or city you lived in as a child, and where you live today and what that’s like, and where you hope you’ll be in a few years. Or it could be more abstract – like some significant event in your past, and how you’re feeling about some part of your life today, or a dream or goal you have for your future. Whatever you’d enjoy sharing. However it is you’d like to be known.
  5. And just thank each other for your time and for sharing and that’s it. Keep the conversation to yourselves. It’s not meant to be a point of gossip or anything.

If we each have three conversations like this, so together we have hundreds and hundreds of them, Reservoir will end our winter a stronger, more beloved community, and lots of us will experience a few more opportunities to know we matter and to convey that to someone else as well.

This is one more step forward to the kind of experiences of loving community that we read about in the Bible’s New Testament, where city treasurers and children of slaves alike continually learned how much they mattered to God and matter to one another through participation in loving faith community.