“Yassification” is a recent meme spreading across social media. To “yassify” something is to heavily edit the original image with multiple filters until the figure is blurred, airbrushed, and entirely unrecognizable. Many of these images come from Twitter user “@YassifyBot,” who primarily yassifies famous paintings, actors, and politicians. Religious leaders, however, are not immune from yassification: Pope Francis, Martin Luther, and Joan of Arc have all been yassified. Anyone can be yassified these days — even Jesus.
On white Christian mantels and white Christian church lawns across the country, nativity scenes continue to depict, in illuminated plastic and with robed volunteers, a white holy family surrounded by a throng of other white folks. If there is anyone in the scene with brown skin — and there wasn’t until the 15th century — it is one of the three “wise men” or kings (specifically Balthasar, the one bringing the gift of myrrh).
In Matthew 25:35, Jesus identifies himself with the stranger we welcome or exclude. Advent hospitality extends beyond our personal relationships and into the ways we structure our neighborhoods and our common life. But in the United States, our politics are driven by “NIMBYism” (“not in my backyard!”), as housed individuals and politicians not only demand the exclusion of unsheltered people from public spaces but also oppose the creation of shelters and permanent, affordable housing in our neighborhoods.
Christians believe that God’s reign of righteousness, steadfast love, peace, and justice is not just a promise relegated to the future. Instead, we see glimpses of that heaven in the here and now, even as we face the realities of suffering and grief all around us. This means that Christ’s birth in Bethlehem makes it possible for us to co-labor with God in yanking pieces of heaven and bringing them closer to Earth.
As I observed and engaged in the multifaceted conversations about abortion, I came to a stark realization: In the story of the Annunciation, God reveals the importance of consent, agency, and women’s rights. This season of Advent presents us with the perfect opportunity to look at the Annunciation from this perspective.
The Great Resignation is underway in the United States with an astounding 3 percent of employees collectively refusing the terms of low-wages, absent benefits, and dangerous working conditions expected by their bosses. Pastors, too, are walking away. Recent poll data collected by Barna Group, a California-based research firm that studies faith and culture, confirmed what I’m seeing among my friends and colleagues. According to Barna, about 38 percent of Protestant senior pastors surveyed have considered leaving ministry over the past year. Among pastors under age 45, that number rose to 46 percent.
My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers. If we’re being honest, most of the food tastes better the day after the feast. Cranberry sauce becomes a sandwich spread, ham goes into a breakfast taco, bones go into a pot to make enough broth for several weeks of soup. Some happenings are so big that there’s always much leftover.
But not all leftovers are good. Trauma, for instance, can linger for months or years after the initial act of violence.
Earlier this month, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg made headlines by announcing that the recently-passed $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill will be used in part to address racial inequities in U.S. highway design. “If a highway was built for the purpose of dividing a white and a Black neighborhood, or if an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach … in New York was designed too low for it to pass by, that obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices,” he said.
A number of Americans were confused — how can concrete and paint be racist? But Buttigieg is correct: Highways and bridges are examples of structural racism literally built into the American cityscape. Reconstructing more equitable cities will require prophetic imagination and real, political solutions. They will vary from city to city. From suburb to suburb. So if you’re looking for a place to start, look in your own neighborhood.
Black women have been historically marginalized both in the church and society — and this trend continues today in theological education as well as the church. Neither the church nor the world of theology will survive if things continue in this direction.
Even with the mass upheaval of our societal patterns and expectations brought by the pandemic, and the spread of global protests against racism and police brutality, our material conditions are not changing at the pace of our rhetoric.
The United States, regrettably, is still struggling to right the longstanding racial bias in our courts and policing. But one area we have entirely failed to examine is who gets labeled as a “gang” and what gets labeled as “gang activity.”
Colonial logic, when applied to political systems, protects power and controls the public narrative. When world leaders use generic terms like “humanity” or phrases like “all humans are responsible for the crisis,” it conceals the responsibility of governments and large corporations. By pointing to humanity in general, they imply that we are all equally responsible for the climate crisis and invisibilize the efforts of Indigenous leaders in the fight for climate justice.
The film opens when Venus and Serena are already near teenhood and tennis stardom. We don’t suffer through scenes of the two first learning to swing a racket, and this allows the movie to focus on the true challenge the sisters faced: the classism and racism of rich, white, tennis institutions that had little time for two Black girls from Compton, Calif. — an issue that has improved but still exists in U.S. tennis.
Although it is hard to imagine a world without Facebook, we must look critically at the implications of its widespread use and the powerful companies that control these platforms — and us. Whether by making election interference easier, selling people’s data, fostering social division by populating feeds with malice, greed, and dissension, social media provides an opportune venue for users to live into our depraved human condition. The consequences of this, however, are not contained in the digital world.
I am troubled about Oklahoma’s recent decision to reinstate the death penalty and to resume state executions. I know you are a Christian, governor. As a Christian minister myself, I believe that capital punishment should end.
But I am not writing to you today to debate policy; the occasion for my letter is much more urgent: The decision to kill Julius Jones or to spare his life rests in your hands.
This quietude at New Camaldoli is different than the imposed silence that accompanied the global time-out wrought by the pandemic. That silence descended like a pall when humans retreated, social distancing in the hopes of slowing the spread of a deadly virus. At the hermitage, the silence is chosen. In that choice there is a freedom to hear, see, and feel more of the natural world as well as our place in it. Such silence-keeping allows us to experience human community in a more deliberate and ultimately transformative way.
Attending church was the beginning of my faith journey, when I began to understand myself, the world, and God. The racism, discrimination, and xenophobia embedded into my daily life were normalized, swiftly decreasing my self-worth as well the worth of other Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese kids I grew up with. Helplessly, we tried to see ourselves reflected, but especially in each other, we found only mere echoes of insecurity.
I remember the flood of emotions I felt almost a year ago when I heard that the major news networks were calling the 2020 election results: overwhelming relief and renewed hope. Far beyond a victory for then-to-become President Joe Biden, it felt like a victory for our democracy — and an imperative to resuscitate, revitalize, and reinvent that democracy.
Fast forward a year: I’m filled with a festering weariness and escalating heartache.