Wednesday, May 01, 2024

A Methodist Family Legacy: the Muzorewas and Murphrees (Rhodesia/Zimbabwe)

 Good Morning/Evening, Friends,

I’ve been posting heavily on Facebook these past two week about my adventures at The United Methodist Church’s General Conference in Charlotte, NC, and today is a VERY IMPORTANT day for the United Methodist history books. More about that later when I’ve had time to  figure out what I want to say and can point you to my favorite news articles about it (this will front page Washington Post news tomorrow ya'll). 

What I was in the middle of drafting for today's blog post when the historic vote happened was that I made a new friend last week, and we instantly recognized each other as kindred spirits. It turns out that we both have family ties to Methodist missionaries in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). So, to see if we could figure out how well our ancestors might have known each other, I dug up the copy I had of a letter written by Bishop Abel Muzorewa giving testimony to the work and impact of the life of my paternal grandmother’s first cousin, Lois Murphree. In it, Bishop Muzorewa highlighted four things: Lois’ vital role in the development of the Rukwadzano (Society of Women), her and her husband’s role in shaping and training of the conference’s Christian Education curriculum, the work she did alongside Rev. Kapenzi in the 1930s and 1940s in developing the hymnody of the church, and the fact that in the 1940s she and her husband unofficially adopted and raised two vulnerable young girls after their father died and their mother was forced into an undesirable marriage. One of those girls was Maggie, Bishop Muzorewa’s future wife. 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Recovering White Savior

Happy Sunday, Friends,  

As predicted, there has been a spike in folks checking out this blog since my name was published on the list of the United Methodist Council of Bishops' nominees for Judicial Council.  What I didn't think about was that I'd start getting the question "Why do you so prominently call yourself a 'recovering white savior,' and what do you mean by that?"

Welp, I've got a short answer and a very long one. The long one is so long that for about the past seven years I've been chewing on the idea of turning it into a book with the working title Confessions of a Recovering White Savior.  The short answer is this: I grew up in a culture that taught me an understanding of discipleship that was rooted in paternalistic white supremacist assumptions about what doing good in the world looks like.  (I encourage you to read Teju Cole's Atlantic piece titled The White-Savior Industrial Complex for more on this) Along my life journey, I have come to understand and am able to articulate in an academic way why the savior complex is toxic, and I now proactively work to address the racist and classist assumptions that undergird it as well as the counter-productive behaviors that stem from it.  That said, just as a person who has been sober for 20 years may identify as a recovering alcoholic, I identify as a recovering white savior as a reminder to myself where I began and what I could easily slip back into if I don't regularly remind myself to pay attention.  

Hope that makes things a bit clearer, and welcome to my website!  

Also: If you are looking for me IRL this morning, I'll be worshipping at First UMC Charlotte with some of my favorite people. Look for the woman in the orange earth toned patterned dress. If you are too far away to join us, you can tune in to their livestream at 11am local time. 


Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Judicial Council Nomination

Hi all.  Greetings from The United Methodist Church's 2020/2024 General Conference.  As a follow-up to my previous vague-posting, I can now publicly say that my name is on the Council of Bishop's nomination list for Judicial Council. As such, I've been instructed to share my professional CV (in addition to the previous post about my Methonerd Credentials). God only know what will happen these next two weeks, but I'm sure it will be a wild ride. 

See CV below:

Monday, April 15, 2024

My Metho-nerd Credentials

Greetings to my friends, old and new. 

my confirmation, Sunrise at Geist UMC

As I previously shared, last year I started teaching United Methodist (UM) History, Polity, and Doctrine courses at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, but you might not know why the school wanted me to teach leaders in The UMC about The UMC. It isn’t a question I normally get asked, but if you are a delegate to this month’s UM General Conference, you may have spotted my name on a nominations list and thus googled me. This post was mostly written for you. 

Cradle United Methodist— I was born and raised in the old South Indiana Conference, daughter of an itinerant UM elder. Church activities filled my evenings and weekends, and being a UM pastor’s kid became a core part of my identity. (My family’s ties to Methodism in the Americas go back at least to the 1800s, but that’s a story for different day.)

Active in UM leadership since my youth—By age 12, I was serving on district and conference youth boards, and by high school I was a youth representative on numerous UM committees, including at the national level. 

    • Elected as a youth delegate to the South Indiana Annual Conference in jr high and continued serving as a youth delegate every year until I moved away for college. I was “that kid” who showed up to AC having read all the pre-conference packets, reviewed Robert’s Rules of Order, and was able to list all the districts and committees in my conference and the conferences in my jurisdiction.
    • Served on the UMC's National Youth Ministries Organization and co-chaired the national gathering planning committee.
    • Attended and/or coordinated many, many large gatherings organized by UM boards and agencies. If the event was organized in the 1990s and 2000s and aimed at my demographic, I was probably there and got the t-shirt.
    • For my BA/MA program, I attended the United Methodist-affiliated American University in DC and immediately sought out a UM congregation to attend and ways to plug into the student movement. I was awarded the Allan Burry prize (General Board of Higher Education) at the UM Student Forum for my work in re-launching a UM student ministry and worshiping community on my campus.

North Katanga Conference Connection—In the early 1990s, my father was making frequent trips to UM communities in North Katanga (to learn about his work and journeys, read The Last Missionary and Pastors, Chiefs, and Warlords), and at age 15 I traveled to Katanga to attend an annual conference session there. It was the first of my many trips to DR Congo, including an extended period serving as an individual Volunteer in Mission. I eventually was ordained an elder in the North Katanga Conference, which is a long story I’d be happy to share over a cup of tea. You can find portions of it in my published doctoral monograph Decolonizing Mission Partnerships

UM Boards and Agencies— I spent a lot of time at the Methodist Building on Capitol Hill (DC) back in my undergrad and grad school days, serving as a part-time program assistant at the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) and the UMC's Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence. The experience taught me about the inner workings of UM agencies as well as the difficulties they faced. Some of the tasks I was assigned included editing committee-created proposals for General Conference resolutions and drafting replies to hate mail. Due to the latter task, I kept the IRD website tab open so that I could generate form letters responding to brazen lies that had been published about the agencies and its staff. Through this exposure, I began to understand the politics of the fighting within the denomination. 

Later in my 20s, while living in North Katanga, I got to know the folks at United Methodist Communications better, as I served as a translator for francophone delegates to UMCOM trainings at Africa University and as an advocate for increased coverage in the UM News Service on the challenges and accomplishments of African UM leaders. My doctoral research in my 30s gave me yet another opportunity to dig into the history of our denomination and the role its agencies have played. (side note: I am very grateful for the work the UM Archives and History team has done to digitize its collection).  

In 2017, I was appointed as Bishop Mande Muyombo’s Executive Assistant for Partnership and Engagement and have continued in this role until today. In other words, I act as my bishop’s strategy advisor and Gal Friday—does that term age me too much?— for interactions with the anglophone world. Bishop Mande is not only bishop over three conferences covering two countries, he has also during this period been Chair of the Africa University Board, Chair of the Connectional Table, and Secretary of the Council of Bishops. As his personal assistant, I have been the proverbial fly on the wall and observed in real time as recent historical debates and events have unfolded.  (This knowledge informed the chapter I wrote in Methodism and American Empire  about empire politics in The UMC harming the central conferences in Africa and endangering their leaders.)  

Global UM Connection—If I was hyper-involved in The UMC in the ‘90s and ‘00s, where have I been “hiding” the past 15 years? In 2009, my spouse became a diplomat, and we began our super-itinerant life outside of the USA. Thus, while I was commissioned in the Indiana Conference, my first post-MDiv clergy appointment was to a UM congregation in the slums of Lusaka, Zambia. Later I served as the pastor of the UM congregation in Algiers, Algeria (France-Swiss Conference), was on loan for three years to the The Church of England’s parish in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and have even preached in Methodist congregations in my current home of New Delhi, India. Soon I’ll be moving to Cairo, Egypt, which will make travel to my episcopal area (North Katanga-Tanganyika-Tanzania) easier and put me in a better time zone for when I’m on Zoom with my colleagues and students in the USA.     

Roaming the globe (I have called 8—soon to be 9—countries home) has given me a broader perspective on what it means to be Methodist, the structure and traditions of Methodism outside of the USA, and where the story of The UMC fits into the bigger picture. I still care about what will happen next, but watching from a physical distance over the past few years has helped me to spot patterns, problems, and possibilities that those immersed in the work don’t necessarily have the bandwidth to reflect upon. I have been able to become a non-anxious sounding board for my colleagues, which—ironically in my eyes—has led since the last General Conference to me being “discovered” and recruited for teaching and consulting roles by institutions and agencies within the denomination.   

This week I am once again packing my bags for The UMC's General Conference. The last few have been brutal, but nevertheless I decided to return. I go to provide pragmatic support to my bishop and episcopal area, to see old friends, to witness a moment for the history books, and, most importantly, to sit with the wounded. If you would like to meet-up in Charlotte April 21-May 3, drop me a line. I'm always happy to expand my circle of kindred spirits.


Sunday, March 10, 2024

Status Update and New Publication: Methodism and American Empire

Greetings Friends,

For those who don't follow my adventures IRL or on FB, you may have noticed that I've once again neglected to update my blog for nearly a year. While in the past the reasons for this were complicated, this time around it was a conscious decision. The short explanation is that the next step in my personal evolution required me to drastically reduce the amount of unpaid/underpaid work I do. It was time for me to address my highly toxic co-dependent relationship with the institutional church, where I was constantly giving my time and emotional resources to a ravenous entity that could not love me back. I needed to take a giant step back and wrestle with my underlying motivations for rarely insisting on financial compensation, identify the legitimate needs that were not being met, and figure out how to meet them in a healthy way. 

I've learned a lot in this period of self-examination, and one of the things I figured out is that I am a high-masking highly monotropic empath who has been gaslit by authority figures since childhood. As I've spent the past year inhaling all the literature/content I can find on the intersection of neurodivergence and healing, I now have a great deal to say/write/teach on the topic, although that too would be unpaid labor I'm not currently willing to do.  

In related news, I've begun doing more paid work—mostly teaching a variety of courses for the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. My relationship with the MTSO family is still in its early stages, but thus far all signs point to this leading to a healthy longterm collaboration.  

Also in related news, there's an important new book out: Methodism and American Empire; Reflections on Decolonizing the Church. I contributed a chapter on the damage that the fight to control the membership and material assets of United Methodist Church has done to the UMC in Africa. I joined this project back in 2021 and finally got the opportunity to read the completed book last week.  I wish I could make it required reading for everyone in leadership positions in the UMC—especially those who are delegates to next month's General Conference, but going forward it will definitely be on the syllabus for the UMC Polity course that I teach.    

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Life in Delhi and Lent Sermon: Martha, Mary, and Jesus

Hanging on by a cord in a coracle in Hampi 
Greetings from New Delhi, India!

It has been nearly seven months since we arrived in our new home, a treetop appartment within walking distance from my husband's posting at the American Embassy. Not going to lie—the first few months were rough. He was working long hours, all three of us kept getting respiratory and stomach bugs (me especially—it turned out our kitchen water purifier was faulty), there were family/house crises back state-side to remotely manage, and somehow in the midst of all this we needed to unpack and figure out basic tasks like getting E safely to/from school and how to buy groceries. 

Now that the moving dust has settled, we've adapted to our new normal, which includes things such as a roving family of extremely mischievous monkeys regularly playing on our balcony, us needing to wear air pollution masks when walking outdoors, and auto-rickshaws and electric taxis being our primary means of transportation. We also go into tourist mode as often as we possibly can (our Facebook albums show the best parts of those adventures around India) and have added Bollywood dance and private ballroom lessons (after months of searching, we found a retired international ballroom champion living in Delhi who agreed to coach us) to our weekly schedule. 

As for me, my role as Bishop Mande's executive assistant has become more time and travel-intensive than ever before. For example, I just got back from serving as the advance team for the Africa University board meeting in Dar Es Salaam, and next month I'm heading to Maputo for the big Africa Central Conferences consultation organized by the UMC's Board of Global Ministries. After that, I'm scheduled to lead a 24-week intensive online course on United Methodist History, Doctrine, and Polity via the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. 

Speaking of Methodist history and politics, I've been getting an unofficial crash course on Methodism in northern India, and it has been fascinating to compare/contrast it to other forms of Methodism I've encountered.  Some things are the same (e.g. they use the cross and flame UMC logo and the anglophone services use the United Methodist hymns/hymnals I grew up with), some are highly contextualized (e.g. shoes must not be worn in the altar/preaching area, baptism is full immersion and done in special outdoor pools), and some, well, you can imagine my face when I was told that here Methodist women are not allowed to be ordained and Methodist clergy wives are required to give up their professional careers in order serve as full-time unpaid assistants to their husbands. Upon hearing this, suddenly so many odd interactions I'd recently had made sense, and I finally understood the political implications of the preaching/teaching/co-officiating the sacraments invitations I'd been receiving from leaders of  two Methodist congregations in Delhi.  There are a number of pandemic-delayed regional Methodist legislative sessions and elections on the horizon, and not-so-coincidentally plans for special gatherings to discuss the status and role of women are being made. I've been asked to be there. Perhaps I find myself in Delhi for such a time as this?

In related news, this morning I was the guest preacher at Centenary Methodist Church (Delhi, India). The sermon focus came from the lectionary Gospel reading about Mary, Martha, and Jesus. I've attached the video of the live stream below. (As you'll notice, the women of the congregation decided to make it a de facto women's Sunday event)

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Life Update and Webinar: Decolonizing Church Partnerships


Me sledding down and Alpine pass
As you have surely noticed, I haven't had the bandwidth or drive the past few years to post on this blog anything beyond the occasional sermon/reflection that I thought might resonate beyond the setting for which I wrote it. So, unless we are Facebook friends or chat from time to time, the only clues you have to what has been keeping me busy are the occasional updates to my bio page. Currently, I'm juggling six part-time vocational roles in addition to being a human striving to prioritize family, friends, and fun—including soaking in the beauty of Slovenia and the surrounding region before we move to New Delhi this summer.  

In God's classic sense of humor/wisdom, the moment I stopped chasing the dirty pink bunny of productivity and professional "success" and discovered that I quite enjoyed being an underemployed semi-recluse was the moment that folks started knocking on my door asking me to teach/coach/help them. This is the very abridged version of how I now find myself with three jobs in academia (coordinating the Osijek Doctoral Colloquium program and teaching courses at MTSO and BGU) on top of my unpaid appointments as shepherd of The Church of England's congregation in Slovenia, president of FPM, and Bishop Mande Muyombo's Executive Assistant for Strategic Partnerships and Engagement (i.e., his wingwoman/Gal Friday for relationships with the anglophone world). Oh, and there are some exciting upcoming collaborative book projects too. 

So, yeah, I didn't exactly go into early semi-retirement after all, but now the well-being of my body/mind and my inner circle of family/friends take priority over anything I'm asked to present or write for acquaintances and strangers. And this shift has been huge. Now I go on family nature hikes, take dance lessons with my husband, up-cycle "trash" into cool cardboard dollhouses with my daughter, create elaborate vintage and runway hairstyles, play boardgames with new friends, and video chat with my people all over the world BECAUSE I CAN and doing so makes me better at all that other stuff. 

Speaking of that other stuff, here's a webinar I recently recorded for BGU on the topic of decolonizing church partnerships. 



Monday, November 15, 2021

Sermon: How to Provoke One Another (Hebrews 10:24)

preached Nov 14, 2021 in Ljubljana, Slovenia  

Photo by Digital Editz
Photo from Digital Editz

Sisters and brothers in Christ, as we just discussed in today’s conversation with our children, we find ourselves in a liminal space—between remembering and honoring those who have gone before us and anticipating and getting ourselves ready for a future that is free from heartbreak, hatred, and oppression. The themes that run throughout this and next week’s lectionary texts are a longing for a divine intervention that turns the world upside down, a questioning of when these things will finally happen, a defiant proclamation that Christ is the king of this kingdom that is at hand, and a discussion of the significance of Christ’s sacrifice and how to be prepared for the days that will come.

There are many ways to approach scriptural study, and one method that some Christian mystics use is called Lectio Divina. Instead of examining the passages with an semi-emotionally detached academic approach, those using Lectio Divina read and meditate on a passage, paying attention to what words or phrases resonate with them and pondering what insights can be gained from wrestling with what bubbles up. When I tried the exercise this time around, what stood out to me were the last lines of the Hebrews reading: Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds. How to Provoke One Another. Now there’s a good sermon title. 

Most of us here aren’t entirely comfortable with provoking other people. The word has rather negative connotations—like internet trolls who enjoy provoking arguments. Bible translators have searched for alternative words in English. They’ve tried using to spur, to stir up, to rouse, to stimulate, to encourage, to motivate, but to provoke seems to be the nearest word we have to the original Greek. Provoking one another to love and good deeds involves an element of risk, asking to step out of our comfort zones, knowing that tensions and conflict could arise. Love that stretches beyond society’s expectations of us—that involves taking concrete actions—is by its very nature controversial. It breaks boundaries, it discomforts the comfortable, and it makes our tidy well-enclosed social lives messy. And complicated. Anyone who claims that following Christ will make one’s personal and financial problems disappear is either a con-artist or has been duped one.

I was re-reminded of God’s mischievous love of provocation recently when a seminary asked to teach an online evangelism course next semester. Welp, that’s one way to spur me to binge read on a topic I often find discomforting. There too in all those books I’ve been reading is that same question, asked in a myriad of ways: How precisely are we to share the Good News of Christ’s love and atonement? How do we, as a congregation, stir up one another to fully walk our talk? Such things are easier said than done, and yet, if we don’t earnestly make the effort, then what exactly are we doing here? 

Are we simply going through the motions of a familiar ritual because we find catharsis in it, or do we truly believe that there is more to reality than what modern science has found a way to detect and measure? Do we believe that there is an omnipotent omnipresent sentient entity that is beyond our limited comprehension—so we anglophones simply call it God—and that God cares so deeply about humanity, yearns so desperately to be in relationship with us, that approximately 2,000 years ago God reached out through a divine messenger to tell a young unwed woman from an oppressed working-class family living in a village under colonial occupation that God saw her and had chosen her and her cousin Elizabeth to miraculously conceive, give birth to, and raise up sons, one who would herald the arrival of the anointed one and one who would inherit the throne of David and be known as the Son of God? Do we affirm that these women enthusiastically consented to this conspiracy to make God’s kingdom manifest here on Earth? Do we believe that the man whose birthday we celebrate next month is worthy to be called Christ the King? That through his humble birth, life, teachings, and self-sacrificial death the world was turned upside down? That salvation and citizenship in the Kingdom of God is not just about what happens when we die, but about who we are, the values we live by, and whose we are today and every day? In the depths of our hearts, do we believe all this to be true?

Sisters and brothers, if the answer is “Yes,” then what more is needed to be provoked into full-time discipleship and sharing with others what following Christ has done to not just heal but transform us? And, if the answer is “No” or “I’m not sure,” then let us be a safe place to talk about that too, because if we don’t have the grace and courage to be open and vulnerable with each other in this little community of ours, how can we expect to be able to have these conversations with our neighbors, relatives, or colleagues? 

And, no, I’m not talking about wearing “I Love Jesus” shirts at the office or knocking on neighbors’ doors asking them if they’ve been born again. What I am suggesting isn’t about that sort of thing. What I would like to encourage, motivate, or rouse us all to do today and every day is to live a more integrated and liberated life. That person we are in those moments when we allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit, overflowing with gratitude to God and unconditional love for all humanity—let us not confine them inside the walls of a church or to only our solitary time but introduce everyone we know and meet to that person because that person has life-changing power flowing through them. That person—we—can be the catalyst that transforms lives and—who knows?—even nations when we allow Christ to work through us.

The words of Apostle Paul:

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6 –New Living Translation


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sermon: The Rich Young Ruler and The Use of Money

Sermon preached October 10, 2021 at the Anglican Church in Ljubljana; Slovenia.  

Preaching Text: Mark 10:17-31 

Photo of coins
Photo by Pratikxox
This week’s lectionary Gospel reading contains Mark’s version of the Rich Young Ruler text. Preachers and theologians have struggled throughout the ages to figure out how to interpret this story without concluding that disciples of Christ are required to sell everything we own and give away all our money to the poor. Countless arguments have been constructed, ranging from “Jesus’ instructions were for that specific man; not us” to “the eye of the needle comment was hyperbole.” Then there are the economic justifications—if everyone gave away everything they owned, who would plow the fields, catch the fish, construct houses or weave clothes? And yet, many a devote believer—one the most famous being Saint Nicholas—has been inspired by the story to take a vow of poverty, give their possessions to those in need, and live the rest of their days in an intentional community of fellow disciples. Their journal writings that have survived until today paint a picture of persons who, while still acutely aware of the sorrow and struggles of human existence, viewed what they gained by their decision as infinitely more valuable than what they gave up.          

Perhaps now more than ever, we live in a materialistic world. Those of us gathered today all come from societies that have so engorged their homes with possessions that t.v. shows and products about how to organize and/or liberate ourselves from all this stuff have become big business. And yet, we still tend to be so caught up in morally justifying why it is ok for Christians to own these homes filled with shiny things—so caught up in seeking a formula for how much we can keep and how much we must put in the offering plate—that we miss other dimensions of today’s Gospel reading—A story so important that it is found not only in Mark, but in Matthew and Luke as well.

Who is the man in these accounts? In Mark, we are told that he has many possessions. In Matthew, we learn that he is young, and in Luke he is referred to as a ruler. He is someone who has strived since his childhood to live a life pleasing to God, yet he remains anxious about whether he has done enough to inherit eternal life. So how would a young man who frets about being a good enough man have become wealthy and powerful?  There’s no mention in the texts of a miraculous rags to riches backstory, so I’m fairly confident in concluding that he obtained his socio-economic status the normal way—he inherited it. 

So here, imagine if you will, we have a young man—odds are high that he’s the firstborn son—who grew up in an opulent home in a politically powerful household. It would have been a big household too—full of both relatives and servants—and presumably a lot of land. And remember this is the first century in a region under Roman occupation. You couldn’t be a ruler unless you were in Rome’s pocket. In my imagination, I see an anxious perfectionistic teenager on the cusp of adulthood who is under a ton of performance pressure. He is profoundly worried about his status in the eyes of others and, while he refuses to admit it to himself, recognizes that what is required of him to please his family is at odds with what is pleasing to God. In Mark’s telling, the young man kneels down when he comes to Jesus. Scholar David Lose points out that everywhere else in Mark where someone kneels down, they are requesting healing for themselves or a loved one.  So when the man asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, the great physician, sees the man’s true ailment and offers him the way to become healed. 

You see, the man’s mind is fixated on and fretting about his inheritance. This isn’t surprising; his maternal and paternal figures would have told him since his birth that who he is—and who he must be—is the heir, and that there are rules one must closely follow or risk losing one’s inheritance and becoming a nobody. The family expects him to maintain their high status in society, but he—and everyone else for that matter—knows exactly how their wealth and power were acquired and maintained. Scholar Luis Menédez-Antuña notes that the man’s household would have held many enslaved persons.   Selling all he owned would have included losing them and the fruits of their labor as well. And following Jesus’ order to then give all his money to the poor would mean that the enslaved, marginalized, and exploited in his household and community would suddenly rank higher than him in terms of their socio-economic position. 

Sisters and brothers, I think this was more than your average “quit your lucrative job, sell everything, and join the Peace Corps” conversation. This was an invitation to collaborate with Jesus in a political movement—flipping the tables on an unjust social order. Not simply refusing to lead the family business, but liquidating the assets and distributing them to those the family had oppressed. Think of the disruption—a community where the poor now have money, assets, and options! A ruler who leverages his power to implode the system from the inside, makes financial amends with those his family has abused, and then follows Jesus to cross! 

Jesus understands that this is what it would take to heal the brokenness, to liberate the young man from the burdens he carries, and allow him to experience the kingdom of heaven in the here and now. But the price of this healing—of this inheritance—was more than he was willing to give up, and he went away grieving.                   

What can this story teach us? Again, that’s an uncomfortable question with many possible answers. I don’t think that the moral is that middle-class folks need to have giant yard sales and move into tiny homes or communes, although buying less stuff and having a smaller carbon footprint is an act of creation care and environmental justice.  The way I see it, the story invites us to reflect deeply on the privileges we inherited at birth—from our skin tone to our citizenship—to acknowledge the advantages we have been granted in a socio-economic pyramid system that depends on trapping much of humanity at the bottom so that we enjoy the comforts of the middle levels. We can’t as individuals escape the system, but we do have the power to punch holes in it. 

The Anglican priest John Wesley did a lot of system disrupting in his day, creating a religious movement known as Methodism, which required of its members to confess their complicity in unjust systems and to actively break down socio-economic barriers. Wesley recognized that love and economic justice were at the heart of Jesus’ teachings, and thus they were at the center of his teachings and work as well. One of Wesley’s most famous sermons was titled “The Use of Money.”   Its main points are usually summed up as “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can” and cited in sermons affirming entrepreneurship, frugality, and especially giving generous tithes and offerings to the church. 

But what Wesley actually emphasized was something else. Yes, he believed that it is good for Christians to be engaged in income-producing activities, and he insisted on living below one’s personal means—living modestly so that money is a tool you use to do good, not a temptation that leads to vanity and greed. And, yes, Wesley affirmed giving away one’s money in those in need, but he did not view this as the primary way for Christians to use money to address the problems of society. In fact, he assumed that once one took care of one’s personal needs and the needs of family and friends, there wouldn’t be much if anything left to give away. Why? Because instead of focusing on giving away one’s money, Wesley wanted to talk about the ethics of making it. No forced labor. No fraud. No dangerous or miserable working conditions. No excessive working hours. No poverty wages. No pawn-broking. No undermining a neighbor’s business. No profiting from or enabling sinful behavior. The list goes on and on. In short, Wesley believed that Christians are called to disrupt business-as-usual by practicing Kingdom values.

Siblings in Christ, the more I think about it, the more I think it would be wonderful to sell [well, almost] everything and join a monastic community—one that welcomed couples and kids, of course. Intentional living where neighbor looks after the needs of neighbor, where we work side-by-side and break bread together—that sounds a lot like heaven to me. But just as there are many parts of the body, there is more than one gift of the Holy Spirit, and thus more than one way to faithfully serve Christ. And so, my challenge to you this month is, as your family studies and reflects upon the saints we honor, talk about what their stories inspire you to change in your life, and then take a leap of faith and do it. 


Thursday, May 27, 2021

Naming Our Hidden Assumptions: Holistic Healing of Mission Partnerships

Adapted from talk I gave at the 21 May 2021 online symposium, Mission Organisations in Times and Places of Worldwide Connectivities, Inequalities, and Imaginaries; co-hosted by the Centre for Theology and Christianity Worldwide, Netherlandse Zendings Raad (Dutch Mission Council), and Protestant Theological University-Amsterdam

For much of my life I have been wrestling with a fundamental question: Why hasn’t humanity—or at least the Church—come together to heal the violence, poverty, and injustice in our world? Why do the missional partnerships and organizations we have formed to tackle such problems and bear witness to our faith so often fail?  What is it that we still do not understand? For me, and I suspect for you as well, the questions relating to how to address the dysfunctions within our boundary-crossing relationships and organizations are not simply intellectual quandaries, they are deeply personal examinations, as we seek to distinguish between what the Holy Spirit is inviting us to do and what is in actuality the voice of hubris mixed with power, privilege, pain, and prejudice. 

My journey on this quest began in earnest in secondary school—the first time I traveled to the Katanga region of what is now called DR Congo. I could sense on a gut level that there was something unhealthy about the relational dynamics I was witnessing between local church leaders, the foreign missionaries, and the mission board that was sending funds for salaries and project support, but I lacked the conceptual vocabulary to articulate this knowing. Since then I have roamed the world, turning to countless scholars and practitioners in a number of disciplines trying to get to the bottom of what 15-year-old me could sense but not explain. And in that journey, I have been profoundly changed. 

Before I could effectively teach what I was learning, I had to acknowledge and repent of beliefs I had subconsciously absorbed and accepted as truth. I needed to face my racist and classist assumptions of moral and intellectual superiority over people I wanted to help. I had to face my hubris, my fantasies about being a hero—a savior to the suffering and oppressed. I had to examine the guilt, grief, and shame I carried for living a privileged and relatively comfortable life while millions of people struggled to survive the day, and I had to get honest with myself about whether the actions I took to alleviate these feelings were doing more harm than good in the world.  

And so, as I pondered and prayed on what I could contribute to the conversation, I decided that instead of offering a history lesson, I could speak to you in my heart’s language about what I’m convinced that we, as mission scholars and practitioners, need to start openly discussing.  My overarching assertion is contained in the title I chose: In order for the healing of our missional relationships and organizations to occur, we must acknowledge and address the underlying toxic beliefs and wounds within ourselves—those things which for so long have been too hidden or painful for us to face. This includes, but is not limited to, assumptions of mental and intellectual superiority or inferiority, racism, savior complexes, lust for power and domination, guilt and shame relating to one’s socio-economic status, alienation, and inherited or directly experienced trauma.  

Nanci Luna Jimnénez, an educator specializing in healing from oppression-based trauma, says that “no movement you are a part of will be any healthier than you are.”* Now one could debate exceptions to this statement, but her point was this—if we want our communities and organizations to be healthy, we need to get serious about our own psychological and spiritual health. Thankfully, we don’t have to start this effort from zero. There is already a wealth of scholarship out there—from Frantz Fanon and Albert Memmi’s work on the psycho-affective aspects of colonialism to Critical Race Theory, Christian ethicist Samuel Wells’ writings on alienation, and even Brené Brown’s work on healing from shame and guilt. What I am inviting the missiology community to do is to take the conversations coming from the decolonization moment and the conversations coming from the anti-racism movement and the conversations about trauma, mental illness, healing and wholeness and the conversations about theologies of atonement and pull them together into our writings and public forums so that they start effectively talking to one another. I truly believe that this action is the catalyst we have been searching for in moving forward towards healthier boundary-crossing missional efforts on a systemic level.  

In her recent paper Racism Awareness in Mission, our colleague Kirsteen Kim makes three assertions that I would like to highlight: 1) “The link between colonialism and contemporary racism needs to be made explicit in missiology;” 2) “At the very least, racism awareness should be integral to mission education and even a touchstone for authentic missiology;” 3) “We should examine the use of ‘culture’ in missiology.”  To build on Kirsteen’s last assertion, I’d like to amplify what anti-racism educator Lillian Roybal Rose wrote about the use of the term culture in our discourse: “Let's call culture anything that is benign or spiritual or connected. And let's call anything that demeans and devalues human beings oppression. Let's separate the two. Because if we don't, then in order to not be oppressed it begins to feel, for many of us, that we have to lose our culture.”**  When I apply Lillian’s linguistical distinction to the topic of church mission organizations and scholarship, it becomes clear to me that so much that has been labeled over the years a community’s culture that needs to be challenged through educational programs or evangelism, is, in fact, predictable social dynamics in response to collective trauma, oppression and extreme poverty. It is both condescending and unhelpful to frame such dysfunctions as a difference in cultures. Instead, I suggest we look to the scholarship on wholistic healing practices, both on the individual and community level.       

As Christian missiologists, we have an advantage over our academic counterparts in the secular NGO and development community because we have an overflowing abundance of teachings and testimonies—both ancient and modern—from all over the world about the healing powers of Christ—about liberation from guilt and shame—about finding love and acceptance in a community of faith, experiencing salvation and at-one-ment.  For example, in his powerful book, A Nazareth Manifesto, Samuel Wells names and declares false one of the most deeply hidden assumptions held by Christians with socio-economic privilege—that while the poor and marginalized need our help, we would be better off without them. Wells says to those who go on mission trips and fund mission projects “You are not the answer to their prayer. They are the answer to yours. You are searching for a salvation only they can bring.”***  

Siblings in Christ- We are the broken ones in need of forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and intimacy without pretense. Boundary-crossing relationships, the building of new communities based on the values of love, equality, and restorative justice modeled to us by Christ, offer us the at-one-ment we seek. As we discuss the complexities of dismantling organizational systems built on delusions of superiority mixed with guilt, we must never lose sight of this truth.

Prayers for health and healing,


*Conversation with Jiménez on March 18, 2017 at workshop she led at the USA Embassy in Algiers, Algeria. Jiménez cited her mentor Lillian Roybal Rose as well as Shelly Brown the ones who first taught her this.
** “Healing from Racism: Cross-Cultural Leadership Teaching for the Multicultural Future,” Winds of Change (Spring 1995), 17, accessed September 1, 2017,
***Wells, A Nazareth Manifesto: Being With God. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. p 96