I often am asked what’s going on here in San Francisco regarding the pandemic and riots. For that I encourage you to listen to these words from two colleagues of mine, Kirk Davis (starting around minute :13) and Tim Svoboda, who directs Youth With a Mission in SF’s Tenderloin neighborhood. I’ve spent years meeting, praying, and even crying with these brothers. They are both on the front lines, Tim from one of SF’s most marginalized communities in the Tenderloin, and Kirk is one of the most connected Black leaders here in San Francisco. Whenever I walk with either of them, it’s not uncommon to be stopped multiple times within one city block by people on the streets. These men are seen as pastors in their respective ‘hoods because of how they seek the peace of the City.
Kirk has long been mobilizing movements to give voice to justice and end racism, including mobilizing people he’s been pastoring on Sunday morning in a way that keeps the church present with their fears, griefs, and keeping our eyes focused on the One who “gets it.” In this season of unrest, Kirk has become a leader of leaders, ministers, and politicians, helping us to better navigate the waters of these turbulent times in solidarity.
Kirk asked me to give the Pentecost sermon in his predominantly African-American Sunday church gathering. What could I possibly say to them without minimizing their extreme pain? I don’t pretend to know that level of pain among a people….but I can certainly let the preaching experience be a part of me learning to better listen and validate their pain and grieving.
My sermon was heavily informed by the fact that May 31 was both Pentecost Sunday and the last day of Asian-American month. So I shared a bit about the Asian-American story, but in a way I imagined the Spirit would want. That is, I imagined the Spirit conjoining the Asian and Black narratives together in a way where each narrative had its own space, each able to hear the Spirit whisper sweetness to our souls in our heart language, and each with an aim to enter into each other’s story in solidarity. That’s what heaven will be like, right?
On that first Pentecost, the Spirit enabled an unprecedented joining together, a kind of inclusion we need now more than ever before. Against the exclusion that has robbed minorities of voice, sound, bound, land, and place, the inclusive work of the Spirit restores these. Consider these words from theologian Willie Jennings:
“The Spirit creates joining. The followers of Jesus are now being connected in a way that joins them to people in the most intimate space—of voice, memory, sound, body, land, and place. … to speak a language is to speak a people” – Willie James Jennings, Acts, A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 28.
That Spirit-enabled joining involves sharing stories, specifically stories across peoples that are unfamiliar, even antagonistic towards each other. This was Jesus’ ministry, and through the Spirit, it is now ours. As a Chinese American speaker in a predominantly African-American context, here was a chance to see the Spirit do similarly. Specifically, I shared a few minutes of my Chinese-American story against the backdrop of Chinese Exclusion, just enough to paint a picture of exclusion, an exclusion I knew my black brothers and sisters in the Zoom room could relate to even though it was not their story.
Chinese exclusion was legalized in 1882, a relatively short time compared to the 400+ year history of exclusion of Africans in America. I stepped through different snapshots of Chinese exclusion, like being framed out of the picture of the infamous joining of the transcontinental Railroad and the quota system that locked Chinese out of America until 1965. I also shared a few incidences of “yellow-face” in Hollywood knowing full well that my black family has been similarly “black-faced” for decades. As I stepped through these different snapshots, we all felt the pain of being robbed of our identity, of being caricatured. But we all also felt the Spirit bring restoration to our identity, by whispering our NAME, our belovedness. And we felt this together, our identities joined through the Spirit.
And with regards to xenophobia associated with COVID-19, I shared a bit of the 1700 harassment cases against people of Asian decent, 40% of them from California.
But I knew I was speaking to people who faces were bearing the pain, tears and cries of “I can’t breath.” In the flesh, I felt I had no right to speak into that space. But because of what happened on Pentecost, I knew the Spirit could work beyond me, and joined our hearts together.
And the Spirit did indeed work; intimacy was created by the joining of our respective ethnic stories. Solidarity in the Spirit was increased. We shared music and prayer. The centuries of being caricatured were being healed by whispers of belovedness by the Spirit. One of the praise mantras in our gatherings is voiced by Jonathan Mcreynolds, we’re not lucky, we’re loved! That’s our true identity. Thank you to my African-American brothers and sister, for your trust, for opening the door so we can stand together. And thank you Jesus. For at YOUR CROSS, and the outpouring of your Spirit, we can be family together.
“They were all with one accord in one place…And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?”
Pandemic Book List (Curated by Youth With a Mission, San Francisco):
On White Privilege:
“White Awake” by Daniel Hill *
“White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo *
Engaging in the Race/Politics Conversation:
“How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi *
“Where do we go from here” by Martin Luther King Jr. *
“Do all Lives Matter?” – by John Perkins & Wayne Gordon
“Thou Shalt Not be a Jerk” by Eugene Cho
De-Colonizing American History
“Unsettling Truths” by Mark Charles & Soong-Chan Rah *
“Stamped from the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi *
American History of Incarceration
“The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander *
“Rethinking Incarceration” by Dominique Dubois Gilliard
“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson *
Kirk Davis Recommended Resources:
“Bread for Resistance” by Donna Barber
“Homeland Insecurity” by Daniel Hodge
“I’m Still Here” by Austin Channing Brown *
“Between the World” by Ta-Nehisi Coates *
Lastly, I wanted to include one more book list, this one from Nate Lee, who happens to serve on the board of kingdomrice.org. The words are Nate’s, verbatim.
TO MY NONBLACK JESUS-LOVING CHRISTIAN FAM
I see some of yall engaging with what’s going on right now and I’m encouraged by the fact that you arent turning away. Some of yall saying some wack stuff, but more importantly: DO NOT STOP ENGAGING. Keep going. Keep learning. Because we need to stand with our black family because they’re family!! And because we ALL need to get free. So if you’re struggling with what to think, how to feel, how to pray, then here is a list of books, separated by questions you might be asking:
“HELP! I DONT KNOW WHAT TO THINK OR WHERE TO START!”
- Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
- Overrated by Eugene Cho
- Beyond Colorblind by Sarah Shin
“I want to learn more about how to dive deeper into issues of faith, race, and justice”
- The Next Evangelicalism by Soong Chan Rah
- Rethinking Incarceration by Dominique Gilliard
- Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
- Unsettling Truths by Mark Charles
- I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
“I’m ready to be challenged practically and theologically in my engagement with justice and race”
- The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone
- Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
- Sisters in the Wilderness by Delores Williams
- The Death of Race by Brian Bantum
- Rescuing Jesus by Deborah Jian Lee
“I am beginning to see how my entire worldview and Christian foundations are premised on white supremacy and I want out!”
- God of the Oppressed by James Cone
- Enfleshing Freedom by M Shawn Copeland
- The Christian Imagination by Willie James Jennings
- Stand Your Ground by Kelly Brown Douglas
Steve here again. Don’t feel guilty about the these reading lists. I’ve perhaps only read 1.5 titles from each category. But let’s keep leaning in. Because of the Spirit, because of that initial outpouring on Pentecost, people are joining together. Because of the Spirit, justice is always restorative. Always honoring. So Stand. Join. Love.