It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on #Signs of Love, not because I haven’t had things to say, but because I haven’t had the time to say them properly. I was working on a funny little “come back” blog, but this topic just keeps coming up – over and over and over again. When that happens, I’ve come to trust that a holy invitation is being offered, one that should be explored, not ignored.

This morning, I opened up my Facebook feed and found this reflection written Collin Packer, a white minister in Dallas, Texas, in response to the killing of Botham Shem Jean in his own home by a police officer. I had heard his name a couple times over the last week, but hadn’t tuned in to the details of the case. I don’t know all the facts, but Packer’s point of view is an important one, as it is written by a peer, a member of the local community and a person in a position of power.


Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Botham Shem Jean. It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. Botham was a man of God, a graduate of Harding University, a worship leader, and a brother in Christ. We shared the same city and the same small religious tribe. He attended our church a few times.

8 days ago, Botham was murdered in his home. The shooter was not taken into custody until 3 days later. And yesterday, while I was sitting at his memorial service, those in power prepared to release the results of what often happens when African-American men are murdered: a thorough investigation into the life of a victim to criminalize him and somehow help others come to the conclusion that he, because of some flaw, “deserved” the bullet that took his life in his own home.

We don’t just murder African-American men. We murder their character. And we continue to justify systems that have continually devalued black bodies from the moment they arrived on our shores on slave ships. 

I am a white minister in Dallas. My family has lived here for generations. I have benefited from so much that this city has offered me. But my experience is not the experience of everyone in Dallas.

And I refuse to be silent and complicit any longer. Botham’s memorial service, along with many other events over the past few years, have unstopped my ears and cleared my eyes.

In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke words that still ring true in our day:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”

I want to challenge my white brothers and sisters in Christ to be willing to speak up for justice. May we be willing to stand in solidarity. May we be willing to listen without being defensive.

The voice of our brother’s blood cries out to us from the ground. May justice roll down like a river. Let us do what we must to tear down any dam constructed to block the flow of that river.

There is not much I can do to “tear down” the dams of injustice, in part, because I benefit so much from the pools that have gathered behind them. But at the very least, I can acknowledge the dams and some of the ways privilege has flowed my way because of the color of my skin.

Another invitation to examine this issue came just yesterday from Parker Palmer, the Quaker author, activist and teacher. He is a humble man, a wise elder and a gentle soul and his words moved me deeply, starting with the title of his essay, “Owning Up to my Toxic Biases.” I’ll just share a few bits here, but I highly recommend you take the time to read the entire piece.

Palmer begins with the words of a friend:

“Grant me the wisdom to see my own unconscious biases that continue to unintentionally and inadvertently make me complicit in this staggering rise of hate and callousness. May I never forget that hate and callousness have been as much part of this American experiment as joy, hope, and love. That while this experience may be new to my consciousness it has been a part of the lives of my fellow Americans who have lacked the access to money and power that come with privilege.”

Palmer goes on to reflect:

So, for the umpteenth time, I’m trying to come to terms with my own complicity in white privilege and the injustice and inhumanity that flow from it. When white people like me ignore or deny all that, it’s just another way of aiding and abetting it.

Isn’t the evidence clear-cut? A lot of things that are easy and safe for white folks are difficult or dangerous for people of color — from being pulled over for a broken taillight to trying to rent or buy a home in certain communities…

But my confession needs to go deeper than owning up to white privilege. Like many people of my race, I carry unconscious elements of white supremacy. If I want to help stem that bloody tide, I must become conscious of that fact.

No, I don’t belong to or support the KKK and its kin, whose beliefs and actions are evil to the core. But it’s a cop-out to equate white supremacy with its most toxic forms. Doing so takes the onus off people like me to come to terms with reality — our country’s and our own. How could a nation built in part on the enslavement of human beings not have a cultural substrate of white supremacy? How could white people rooted in that ground not be tainted by that toxicity?

If I look at myself closely and honestly, I find a form of white supremacy that’s subtle but pernicious. For a long time, I held an unacknowledged assumption that “white is normal,” that white ways are the “normal” ways.  All other ways are “exotic” at best, often “strange” and even “off-putting,” and sometimes “scary.”

Does all of this make me guilty of something sinister simply because I was born white? Of course not. No one is born guilty of anything. The guilt comes when I deny that being white gives me social advantages and crimps my capacity to see the world clearly and engage it honestly. Denial keeps me from owning my own arrogance, putting on corrective lenses, and fully joining the fight against the pestilence of white supremacy.

Is there any hope for white illusionists like me? As far as I’m concerned, this entire column is about hope — because hope opens up as soon as we gain self-awareness, confess our role in creating injustice, and reach deep for ways to release the better angels of our nature.

I love that phrase “white illusionist,” in part because it makes my own blindness more palatable and therefore easier to admit to and actively address. We can’t see what we aren’t told to look for, so when I look for “white supremacy” in my own life and actions, it’s difficult to see, but when intelligent, invested people pull back the curtain on the “illusion” of color-blindness most of white America hides behind, I am amazed at all the tricks in my subconscious that allow me to enjoy my life “as is.” While I may be consciously poking holes in those “dams of injustice,” I am unconsciously building them up and swimming in the overflow.

So what do I do about it, Palmer wonders?

I wonder about that too, but I think I know at least part of the answer.

1. Be more curious than defensive.

And if you’re curious, start investigating the questions. Look for authors, essayists and activists who will challenge your thinking. Join healthy conversations on the topic. If you’re a Tucker Carlson fan, I’m not saying you should go read Ta Nehisi Coates, but start seeking out authors on the right who are more open to a respectful dialogue on the subject. You might start with David French’s essay, “Why I Changed the Way I Write about Police Shootings.” If you’re a person of faith, or a white mom, try one of the essays of Jen Hatmaker on the subject, or watch her Today show video. If you’re interested in politics of the death penalty, read Bryan Stevenson. I’m currently being enlightened, challenged and disturbed by Austin Channing Brown’s I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.

There is so much good content out there, but we need to seek it out and then we need to sit with it, especially when it makes us uncomfortable, or flies in the face of our own experience and what we believe to be the entire truth about ourselves, our nation, or our faith.

2. Be willing to speak up, but be humble.

I can’t think of anything more awkward to speak about than race and my own whiteness, so most of the time, I keep my mouth shut (unless I’m at home; my family hears about it probably more than they’d like). But I’m trying as humbly as I can to be a little braver, to apologize for stupid things I’ve said, or assumptions I’ve made. This blog is a step in that direction. Tim pointed out that most of the words in this essay aren’t my own, but I’m conscious of the fact that other, more educated people are speaking more eloquently on this topic. I have always admired, but rarely adhered to the maxim “If you can’t improve the conversation, remain silent.” In this moment, I’m mostly just trying to point out a couple of the conversations that are taking place.

3. Love, Love again, Love Better.

Every single day, Love yourself, love your neighbor, love the other, love the world in some real, tangible way. Do something that moves us closer to connection, to unity, to grace and forgiveness, even if only by a millimeter. If you can do it by a yard, that’s even better, but most days we aren’t hitting it out of the park. Palmer quotes Sikh lawyer, activist and filmmaker, Valerie Kaur, who advocates for Revolutionary Love, through the metaphor of mothering.

“Mothering, a capacity that exists within each of us, helps us redefine love, not just as emotion but as a form of sweet labor. It calls us to wonder about others, listen to their stories, respond to their needs. We employ many emotions in that labor: Joy is the gift of love. Grief is the price of love. Anger is the force that protects it.

When we practice love beyond the threshold of the home, it has the potential to transform the world around us and within us. But love must be poured in all three directions to be revolutionary. Revolutionary Love is the choice to enter into labor — for others, for our opponents, for ourselves. I believe Revolutionary Love is the call of our times.”

 Amen, Valerie and thanks for saying it better and saying it for me.


Many, many years ago, I was a part-time faculty member in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at SDSU. It was my dream job – or rather, it was the job I dreamed of having, when having a job was just a dream.

At twenty-one, I was finishing up my B.A., applying to grad school, and engaged to be married to the man I loved. Tim and I went back and forth about whether I would get my doctorate and take a tenure track position wherever it was offered, or whether we would put down roots in San Diego and open a surf shop. Obviously, the surf shop won. One of the deciding factors was that I wanted to be a full-time mom to the kids we would have someday. While doing my research, I didn’t get the feeling that a university professor could take years off to lie on the floor and read board books and push around wooden trains.

So I dreamed of a part-time position, teaching and mothering in tandem, and my dream came true. From the time I got my master’s degree until I became pregnant with our third child, I had steady and regular employment at several different campuses around Southern California. And when I finally left, it wasn’t because things weren’t working out the way I hoped they would.

I left, because I wasn’t who I thought I was.

I had always loved to read and write. At twenty-one, I couldn’t imagine that wouldn’t always be the most important skill I had to share with my students and if I couldn’t teach them how to love reading and writing, then at least I could teach them how to do it well. So I taught them how to read critically, how to say what they meant, and sometimes even how to find something meaningful to say.

But after a few years of teaching, of watching students come in and out of my classroom, becoming better readers and writers, I realized that it wasn’t actually what I wanted to teach them any more. I realized that there were more important things I wanted them to know. I was teaching them how to write, but I wanted to teach them how to be.

Does that sound arrogant to you? Pompous? Conceited? If it does, you’re right and unfortunately, those words describe most of the college professors I had ever met, or at least the ones I disliked the most and I DIDN’T WANT TO BECOME ONE OF THEM. I didn’t want to be another authority figure, who ostensibly taught their subject matter, but in reality, filled lectures with their own personal philosophies. It didn’t matter if it was communism, atheism, socialism, patriotism, Catholicism, or simply hedonism. Although I couldn’t have named my ‘ism’ at the time, I knew I was struggling to teach without it.

And so, uneasy in my professional life, I carried on for another year or two, until I stumbled across an essay in an Oprah magazine from January, 2001. I still have the original page, tucked away in a file. It was written by Parker Palmer, someone I had never heard of at that point and it was called, “Are You Listening to Your Life?” Palmer’s words resonated with something deep inside me.

He said, “I was in my early 30s when I first began to question my calling, teaching at a university and doing it reasonably well, but I felt stifled by the confines of academic life. A small voice inside was calling me toward something unknown and risky, yet more congruent with my own truth.” He admired Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. He had read their work and allowed it to change him. He went on to admit that “Clinging fearfully to my academic job even though it was a bad fit, I tried to teach the way I imagined my heroes would. The results were rarely admirable, often laughable and sometimes grotesque, as when I caught myself preaching to students instead of teaching them. I had simply found a ‘noble’ way to live a false life, imitating my heroes instead of listening to my heart.”

And as I read those words, curled up on my couch with a cup of tea on a January afternoon, he spoke to my heart and he broke my heart. I remember the tears streaming down my face and my heart beating faster. Becoming a college professor was all I had ever wanted to do professionally. I had never conceived of a time when I would not want to read literature, write about literature and teach literature. I didn’t even know what else I could do. I just knew what I had to do, even though it seemed impossible. I knew it was possible, because I saw him do it first.

Frederick Buechner, an author and theologian, defined vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I knew that there was a deep need for good writing instruction – any school principal, college dean, or business leader will tell you that, and I knew that I could meet that need; I was good at it. I had the reviews and renewed teaching contracts to prove it. But after my many years of teaching, I also knew that I would not find my deep gladness there.

I couldn’t teach, or preach in my classroom any more – it just didn’t matter enough to me if they knew how to write a thesis, organize an essay, or correctly punctuate a sentence. I still loved literature. I still loved being around young people. I still wanted to influence their lives. I just knew that my vocation was not teaching. I felt that staying in the profession was a disservice to my students and myself. It was no longer an authentic way of communicating who I was and what mattered to me. Maybe it was naïve to quit and get out of the work force, but I wasn’t able to see another way to listen to my heart and I had the privilege of making that choice.

For the next ten years, I found my “deep gladness” being a mother. As a bonus, nothing about that career choice kept me from sharing my “isms.” I didn’t have to hide my personal philosophy from “my students.” I was and still am allowed to teach, preach and even screech what I believe. As a matter of fact, it’s my responsibility to teach them how to be and as a bonus, I get to teach them how to write as well. It is one of the perks of my job, but as a full-time position, it’s rapidly coming to an end. They are all proficient writers, but even more importantly, they are beyond-proficient, decent human beings and so once again I have become uneasy in my “professional” life. While it has brought me “deep gladness,” I believe I can do more to “meet the world’s deep need.”

Though I wasn’t sure what I was “supposed” to do, a few years ago I started to write for an educational non-profit.  I began to speak to different groups when invited and last year, I started this blog. I hear from time to time that it has helped someone to think about how to be in this world and those comments always make me smile, because deep down I know I am still teaching, though maybe not in the traditional sense.

Ironically enough, I recently came across Parker Palmer again, this time in his book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. Though I got it at the library, it is covered in my sticky notes, of different sizes and colors, some for me, some for Tim, and some for my friend T, who reads every great book with me. She already has her own copy on order from Amazon.

In the very first chapter, he lays out a problem many of people face, myself among them.

Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished, or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the ‘integrity that comes from being what you are.

At twenty, I pursued a career in good faith, thinking I knew who I was. At thirty, I took a leap and fully embraced it, but in the smallest terms possible, within the four walls of my home and the four people who lived there. At forty, I am knocking those walls down again, while trying to remain faithful to who I am and the truth I hold within. It is the truth I have learned over the last twenty years of teaching and writing, parenthood and marriage, business and friendship.

I am here to love. I am here to be with people, to support, and to serve them. In my best moments, when I am patient and humble and kind, I am here to help people see for themselves who they are and what they are capable of.

And it doesn’t matter whether I do it in a classroom, or a conference room, on paper, or in person. It is my vocation, “where my deepest gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

What is your vocation? What are you called to do in the biggest terms possible? How are you living it out?

That isn’t a loaded question. I think we all live out our vocation in at least some small way in our lives. It’s what gives us the ability to find joy, to smile and love and ultimately, to carry on, each and every day.