Unbelonging uncovers the stepping stones that are invisible in belonging. Every time we are excommunicated, pushed away, pushed out, or told we don’t fit in. Every time we feel angst over the social boundaries we’re told we must abide by, we have begun the journey to see these stepping stones that give us a new perspective of Christ. For Christ, belonging is never transactional. Belonging has always been unconditional.
And this is the most radical, controversial, mind-blowing aspect of Christianity —
the abundance of God in belonging.
There are no prerequisites to begin the journey or even along the way. There is abundance of belonging for every step, every misstep, every part of the journey. Scarcity and prosperity have no room in Christ’s kingdom, because those identifiers are codependent on accolades, possessions, and checklists. And those identifiers dichotomize the whole of the human race: you either have it and are prosperous or you don’t. God’s abundance redefines what identity even is, and every unbelonging unveils more and more of this truth. But it requires a deep letting go of the things we thought we did for ourselves. We cannot hold onto our trophies, our accomplishments, our belief systems, or our good deeds. Authentic, abundant belonging has no relation to those measurements. This is absolute freedom. And, absolute sadness simultaneously to people whose identity is so wrapped up in accomplishment that the Good News of this abundance is deeply difficult news to their egos. It is in the unbelonging, we learn to truly belong to Christ, who is always bent toward us. The question is, will we lay down our bent toward prosperity so that we can accept this true belonging?
For workers struggling to find pay, struggling to find consistent work, struggling to move beyond survival, extra stressed by their circumstances, reveal your presence to them so they know they don’t walk alone.
Be their Jehovah Shammah.
Lord, hear our prayer.
For those out of work, struggling to find it, feeling underwater as their dignity and identity are so closely connected to the reality of having it, be their Jehovah Bore, Elohim, and remind them that their worth comes from the dignity You’ve already given.
Lord, hear our prayer.
For workers being exploited — sexually, economically, racially, because of immigrant status or otherwise, Lord protect them. Hedge their intrinsic value, their families, their bodies and minds. Be their Jehovah Sabaoth.
Lord, hear our prayer.
For children, spouses, and friends, siblings, and parents who depend on these workers, Lord, provide for these families. Be their Jehovah Jireh. Change laws & oppressive policies, infuse empathy in those who have power over these. Be Jehovah Nissi, make yourself known to the workers, their families, their employers and politicians.
Lord, hear our prayer.
For the dignity innate in every human being
For the everlasting love you so freely give,
Lord, let these workers experience and know and feel--
You are near and You are love; You care, and You lead to green pastures. Be their Jehovah Rohi.
Lord, hear our prayer.
And for those who can advocate on their behalf, work toward their communal good, open up opportunities for flourishing, connect resources and networks — equip them for this good work. Energize them with your ever-flowing love, forgive them of any haughty thoughts, and let them learn as much as they teach, receive as much as they give, challenge as much as they encourage.
Be our Jehovah Adonai.
Lord, hear our prayer.
If you struggle during this season to stay focused on Christ and his birth because of all of the distractions of commercialism starting with Black Friday and leading right up to December 25, Covid logistics for get-togethers, the perfect presents for every so-and-so, you are not alone. I used to get so frustrated during this season because it seems to not be about Christ at all (I wrote a blog post in my early 20s called why I hate Christmas.) But then I learned about Advent — and the church calendar in general — and it's given me a way to stay focused on Christ.
I've created a Nouns & Verbs Advent 2020 calendar as a mini morning devotional for 25 days leading up to the day we celebrate Christ's birth. Little prompts to go with each day. I'll be sending it out December 1 in my monthly newsletter, so sign up by November 30 on my homepage: genathomas.com
A prayer for the [Christian] political other--
Lord bless the Christian who votes differently than me. Open their—I mean our—eyes to see the bigger picture.
Teach me not to dehumanize
Teach me not to judge their humanity while opining on their choices.
Lord bless the one who votes differently than me, and help me to mean this prayer. Yes, help me to mean this prayer.
May I see Your Imago Dei in him, and may he see it in me. But even if he doesn't, Lord bless the one who votes differently than me.
Let both of us use our votes for your goodness, for communal flourishing, and let our lives speak the sermons that move mountains.
Give both of us wisdom to draw boundaries, but not build walls. Yes, Lord bless the Christian who votes differently than me, and bless me with this desperately needed grace.
Don’t wait until you have thousands of followers, a large platform, publishers that automatically say yes before you do these things. DO THEM NOW. If we wait till we are famous, we are adding to the injustices of the publishing world. Let’s start now in changing our culture. If we don’t learn to strive for everyone’s flourishing prior to our own “success” it will be so much harder when we get to wherever we are trying to go. So if you only have 20 followers, you’ve come at the right moment. And as you continue on this journey invite others to do the same.
I’m not perfect in any of these things. I’ve messed up, I’ve forgotten. I’ve not been intentional. But these are the things I’m striving to do, and send me an email if you think I can do better with specific steps for me to follow. If you have more ideas on how to do so, and you don’t mind me publishing your name, please share in the comments or email me. I will add them!
History is a wise ancestor who leads us, if we let her.
District Judge Gee postponed the order to release migrant children held in detention facilities by ten days with a release date of July 27. DHS, this is your opportunity to intentionally keep families together. To make wrongs right. To carve a new path forward.
From 1619 until 1865 we forcibly separated families in slavery. Children were legally allowed to be sold or traded without the permission of their parents. This was America.
From 1860 until 1973 we forcibly separated Native American children from their families through boarding schools. Agents were paid a bounty for “rounding up kids to ship to the government boarding schools. Later… parents had to sign papers to let their children go ‘legally.’ Parents who refused could go to jail.” Binary choice made way for forced assimilation. This was America.
In the 1930s during “Mexican Repatriation” children were left behind while parents were detained and deported. This was America.
A decade later, 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated in internment camps. In some cases, family members were separated and put into different camps. It was an executive order that legalized this version of America.
In 2018, over 2,700 children were forcibly separated by you under the zero-tolerance policy. District Court Judge Sabraw issued an injunction against the separations in June 2018. International agencies called you out on human rights violations. And the American people were outraged. The America we wanted was not the one we saw. Two years ago, this was America.
In each case, the dehumanization of human beings led to forced separation of families in the name of national security and capital gain.
So I ask you, DHS, because you hold the power. Will you set America on a better path than her past has projected for her? Fulfill Judge Gee’s order by allowing families to leave detention centers together.
Five-year-old Julia, my former foster daughter was separated first in Mexico from her biological mother. Smugglers held her mother hostage and forced her into prostitution. Julia was separated from her stepdad because of zero-tolerance. The power you wielded led to life-long trauma for their family. You have security forces in positions where social workers should be. Securing our safety as a nation involves upholding human rights, protecting our holistic wellbeing, and allowing those who seek safety to be first and foremost treated as human beings “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”
When, by July 27, you release these children to sponsorship families through the Office of Refugee Resettlement — which Julia went through — what then? Over half of low-income families in America are economically struggling in the U.S. right now due to COVID-19, and sponsorship families do not get a stipend like foster families do. Imagine taking a child into your home. What stresses would your family go through? Release families together. Let this be our America.
Julia ended up in foster care because she was released to a home that was already struggling financially.
As a foster parent who parented two American girls prior to Julia, family separation is achingly difficult, even when biological parents have abused or neglected their children. Foster care exists to reunite families as soon as possible with safety precautions around the children: good parenting standards in a safe and appropriate home.
Why aren’t immigrant families afforded the same rights? Unless the detained immigrant parents are abusive, children should be released with their parents. Beyond the unnecessary trauma we are inflicting on these families, we know that alternatives to detention cost far less and community-based programming is far more humane than detention.
If we separate families in the name of national protection at the cost of our souls, we are still the America we’ve always been. If we separate families for economic gain, how are we any different than the smugglers who do the same?
Every time we separate families, we stunt our moral growth continuing our already-too-long legacy of dehumanization. We subject so many to the unnecessary but all-too-familiar trauma of family separation for the sake of an America we don’t want.
Let us be an America known for reuniting families, not one that finds more subtle ways to tear them apart.
The first time I met “Daniel” was at his 8th birthday party. The clinic had a birthday party for him and bought him a special bike. He had never ridden a bike before, he was born with a disability. When the doctors put Daniel in his mother’s arms, they told her that the only chance he had to have another birthday was to leave their home for specialized care that his country could not offer him. What would you do for your child?
Nearly 35 million U.S. children have experienced one or more types of trauma. One of the most common causes of childhood trauma is separation from a parent or caregiver. Children as young as 5 months old can remember traumatic events. This can lead to social, emotional, and academic difficulties. Why would we as a nation ever want to contribute to that?
Daniel continues to have surgeries, therapy, and complications. He stopped playing at recess because he was afraid he would fall. Imagine being 8 and knowing how much a CT scan costs at the Emergency Department. Last year, Daniel started having seizures. Would you walk across the world if it meant you could keep your child safe? Would you accept the help of friends to find someone to perform brain surgery on your baby? I hope so.
Keep families together. Keep children remembering happy birthdays wherever they are. Families will continue to walk across nations to find a better life for their children, we are only responsible for how we treat them while they are in our care.
Amy Norbury, MSN,DNP
Nurse Practitioner from North Carolina
Dear white Christians,
I know that some of you might get angry that I am even distinguishing us as white, but it's necessary. You might ask why, and I'll answer, but not right now. Right now I want to remind us of the Lord's Prayer. Right now I want to say that if you are looking for a place to start untangling all that you may or may not understand that is happening in the world, start there, with the Lord's Prayer.
Yes, He is all of our Father. Notice Jesus does not say My Father. He says Our. Our is a collective possessive adjective here. We all get to be a part. Not just the sinless One; no, we are family.
YOUR KINGDOM COME & YOUR WILL BE DONE
This is not about our own kingdoms. This is not about my own family, my own house, my own financial wealth. This is about God's Kingdom Come. And His kingdom is a counter-cultural kingdom, it's an upside down kingdom, it's a shalom-embodied community where everyone is seen as neighbor and everyone flourishes in his/her own way. This is a kingdom where no one is higher on the "worth" scale than anyone else. Everyone is worthy. Everyone has value not because of his/her actions, but because he/she is a HUMAN BEING MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD.
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD
This is a violent confrontation with the idol of scarcity (or the scarcity mindset) that says there's not enough. There's never enough. How does this play out in what's happening right now? It plays out in privilege. Our privilege mixed with our American Dream mentality tells us (just as Egypt tried to ingrain in the Israelite psyche) that your worth is found in how much you produce, how much you own, how much you hoard, how much you keep. This idol feeds off of individuality. And we feed it so very much. It's ingrained in our very psyches. And we must be reminded every day that God is our provider, that there is enough to go around, and that we can trust the Manna that comes from above. When the Israelites when into the desert, Manna was necessary not just for their physical nourishment but also for their souls. Like them, we have come to believe the lie that there's not enough, we're not enough, our resources aren't enough ... so we hoard. We hoard resources, we hoard privilege, we hoard and build up our own kingdoms rather than building that shalom-filled community.
FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES
Why is it so hard for us as white Christians to ask for forgiveness? Why is it so hard for us to start with confession? Is it because we think it makes us look weak? Is it because we know confessing our complicity in racism requires that we take a good look at the kingdoms we've built and realize we, just like our ancestors, built them on a foundation of oppression? Is it because it requires us to scrutinize the things we've accumulated, hoarded? Our "successes"? We have trespassed against our brothers and sisters of color and we have trespassed against God. We won't move forward in this fight if we don't confess, not fake confessions of "oh I'm sorry you feel this way" or "I'm sorry if I unintentionally offended you". Nope. Not base-level statements of racism is wrong. That's not true confession. True confession says I WAS WRONG. WE WERE WRONG. WE HAVE SINNED. Full stop. We've perpetuated a horrible theology that says that white lives are more important than other lives, and what's worse, we've used the Bible to do it! Oh no, we've never said *that* out loud, but we say it with our staff makeup, with our bookshelves that have mostly/all white authors, with our constant references to white theologians, with our pulpits and church staffs, with our constant elevation of white thinkers, with the schools we choose for our kids, with the neighborhoods we choose to live in, with our outreaches. WITH OUR VALUES. Let's confess that our values have not aligned with the values of the kingdom of God.
It's the internal sins, the sins of omission, the sins of silence, the sins of refusing to scrutinize our own lives that will keep us yelling from the rooftops that we hate racism all the while we're fighting to perpetuate it.
Father, forgive us. We know exactly what we've done.
Here is a list of resources I personally recommend on racial justice from a Christian perspective. Please note, this is NOT an extensive list, and it is only of Christian books. There are many books on this topic that are very important to read that aren't included on this list! I also have a to-read section below of books I intend on reading but haven't yet as I am always learning more! I attempted to list them in order of what I would give to someone who has never done any anti-racism work first, but I did not read them in this order and I'm sure my ordering could use some help:
For groups of people, check out the following resources:
On my to-read list from Christian authors:
AND MORE FROM DAVID SWANSON
1. Leroy Barber (2016). Embrace: God's Radical Shalom for a Divided World. InterVarsity Press.
2. Brad Christerson, Korie L. Edwards, and Richard Flory (2010). Growing Up in America: The Power of Race in the Lives of Teens. Stanford University Press.
3. Frederick Douglass (2017). Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and American Slave (Bicentennial Edition). Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives.
4. Michelle Ferrigno Warren (2017). The Power of Proximity: Moving Beyond Awareness to Action. InterVarsity Press.
5. J. Daniel Hays (2016). From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race (New Studies in Biblical Theology Book 14). InterVarsity Press.
6. Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart (2017). Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World. InterVarsity Press.
7. David P. Leong (2017). Race & Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation. InterVarsity Press.
8. D. L. Mayfield (2020). The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety, and Power. InterVarsity Press. (Release Date: August 18, 2020).
10. Brenda Salter McNeil (2020). Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now. Brazos Press (
11. Brenda Salter McNeil (2020). Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice. InterVarsity Press. (Release Date: June 16, 2020)
12. Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson (2009). The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change. InterVarsity Press.
13. Mark A. Noll (2008). God and Race in American Politics: A Short History. Princeton.
14. Adrian Pei (2018). The Minority Experience: Navigating Emotional and Organizational Realities. InterVarsity Press.
15. Jemar Tisby (2021). How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice. Zondervan. (Release Date: January 5, 2021)
14. Miroslav Volf (1996). Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Abingdon Press.
15. Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim (2004). United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation As an Answer to the Problem of Race. Oxford University Press.
And another list from a different David Swanson: (who wrote the book Rediscipling the White Church) has a constantly-updated reconciliation bibliography.
Use the comment section below to tell me what resources you would add. Also check out my published page to see what I have written about racial justice.
Last week, I felt like quitting being a writer. So here's an advice list to myself and to current and future writers - a list of directives I wish I knew years ago and am still actively learning.
1. Don't wait till you're famous to lift other writers up. Do it now
2. Find a community of writers to deal w/ the waves of what writing and publishing bring, & if you don't have access to a community of writers, make friends w/ individual writers
3. Don't plagiarize anyone EVER
4. Don't let anyone plagiarize you or another writer. If you see it, say something
5. People will still get famous plagiarizing others, don't choose that path—yes it's a choice
6. People will criticize and condemn. Don't drown out *all* the criticisms, but draw lines
7. Listen to critique, filter if it's warranted, and if it is, do better, be better. It will make your voice stronger and your solidarity authentic
8. If it's not warranted, try your best to be compassionate, understand that everyone has wounds; if it comes in torrents, block it
9. Editors are amazing people. If you struggle with what they say at first, walk away, feel all the feels, then come back and look again with a level head & a warrior heart. Stay true to your voice, but know that your best voice needs community
10. Go to a therapist, if possible
11. The publishing system is broken, do what you can to reroute it. Share your platform, refuse events/interviews that will bring you fame/$ but are unjust. Recognize that publishing is not AT ALL immune to racism, classism, & sexism
12. Not all famous writers are rich
13. Famous writers aren't always good writers, some are
14. Comparing yourself with others will come. Figure out ways that work for you to silence those voices, or positively engage them
15. You are more than your writing
16. You are more than your published work
17. Even if you never publish anything again ever, you are enough
18. Find economic hacks if you need to: use Amazon's Look Inside as a library, get books from the library for research, send a message to the author & see if they'll send you a free copy
19. Ask yourself, is it worth writing this if only one person is affected? Yes numbers count in the current system, but they don't have to count in your heart. Get others to remind you of this, regularly
20. There's only as much room at "the table" as we, in our biases, actively make!
21. Marketing sucks, but it's part of the system. Ppl will say you don't have to do it, but you do. Famous ppl will talk about how dumb it is, & it is, but you still have to do it
22. Don't dehumanize other writers, don't assume they haven't gone through shit to be where they are
23. You are important, your voice matters. So keep working hard
24. Rejections will come, it's more important how you deal with them than how many you get
25. Find rhythms to get off social media so it doesn't suck the life out of you
26. Take hold of that which brings you joy.