1.  Five Ways to De-Commercialize Christmas
We’ve created a Christmas monster: a grotesque assemblage of pagan, Christian and capitalist symbolism into something that resembles something we’re both attracted to and repulsed by at the same time. We’re fueled by an admixture of both guilt and greed, while the domestic economy pins its annual hopes on our propensity for spending far more than we have or want to spend...continue reading

2.  9 Things I Want to Say (But Don’t) To Your Curious yet Racially Charged Microaggressions against Me & My Children
I am racially Italian-American & African-American.  I am a biracial, self-identifying, culturally & ethnically black American woman living in the segregated Midwest. I grew up in Detroit, one of the most segregated cities in America...continue reading

3.  When Platforms Go Bad: 3 Lessons I Learned From My National Radio Interview
Several weeks ago, I published on article on Sarah Moon’s blog entitled Reclaiming a Feminine Christianity which essentially argues for reclaiming the feminine metaphors that we read throughout scripture. This article made waves in some circles, leading to a followup article published on The Good Men Project and an invitation to do a national radio interview on the Jesse Lee Peterson Radio Show...continue reading

4.  Six Reasons Americans Still Need Christianity
In a secularized society obsessed with consumerism, entertainment, and modernization, Christianity is often portrayed as being old-fashioned, irrelevant, and useless, but it still serves some very valuable and profound purposes. Here’s why Americans still need it...continue reading

5.  White People Need a Non-White Jesus
In the wake of Megyn Kelly’s statement that “Jesus was a white man,” critics have quickly and unanimously responded that Jesus was not a white man. Here at Sojourners, Rev. Laura Barkley has debunked Kelly’s statements, noting that Jesus “was a Palestinian Jew in first-century Nazareth...continue reading
Today marks the 77th birthday of Pope Francis. It is bizarre that for so many Christians around the world there is Christianity and then there is Catholicism. For the better part of history the Catholic Church was synonymous with Christianity. Perhaps the disconnect between Catholicism and Protestantism serves as a sign of just how exceptional this pope is since so many non-Catholics are identifying with his theology and gravitating toward him like the international icon he is. I don't know how many people view the pope as a nominal leader or who actually look to him for spiritual guidance and moral authority, but his papacy has been a breath of fresh air for myself and many others.

In honor of the courage he has displayed during his papacy I have compiled a list of five great things he has done that have inspired me in my walk with Christ (there are several more not included).

1. Who am I to judge?
Back in the summer the pope was asked about the supposed "gay lobby" that existed within the church. His response would shock many as it went against the teachings of the previous pope. Francis said, "When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency (to homosexuality) is not the problem ... they're our brothers." The pope would later go on to critique the church's tendency to focus on such divisive issues which took energy and time away from actual ministry. In an interview in September the pope was quoted as saying, "It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently."

2. Bishop Deluxe suspended.
In October, Pope Francis officially suspended German Bishop Franz Peter Tebartz-van Elst otherwise known as the "Bishop of Bling" and ordered him to vacate the Diocese of Limburg. The German bishop spent $42 million on private apartments, an 800-square-foot fitness room, private landscaped gardens and fountains, as well as a couple of million for elaborate walls surrounding the house. The suspension was a clear message that such lavishness would not be tolerated under Francis's watch as he has called for a "church that is poor and for the poor." There are talks of turning the Bishop of Bling's residence into a soup kitchen.

3. I am not a Marxist.
After the pope released his first apostolic exhortation, in which he called "unfettered capitalism" a form of "new tyranny," he was met with fiery accusations of Marxism from right wing Americans. The pope also criticized the "idolatry of money" and implored politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and health care." In the document he also called on rich people to share their wealth. "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills."

4. Pope washes feet.
Last spring Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome. This occured on Holy Thursday and was intended to represent Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Two of the 12 inmates were women. Although the church is still officially against the ordination of women into the priesthood, this was still a significant event as Pope Francis was the first pope to wash the feet of a woman, one of which was Muslim. This act not only shows servitude but it also relays the message that the church is to be embracing of "man or woman, slave or free, Jew or Gentile."

5. Disfigured man approaches pope.
In November the pope touched, kissed, and prayed for 53 year old Vinicio Riva who suffers from a non-infectious genetic disease, neurofibromatosis type 1. It has left him completely covered from head to toe with growths, swellings and itchy sores. The act of compassion showed the pope's genuine care for all of humanity and was the actualization of a tweet he sent out earlier in the year saying, "The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable."

Catholicism has quite the history spanning from the preservation of books, the creation of the university system, and great pieces of art and architecture to colonialism, imperialism, and the pillage of people whose beliefs differed from theirs. There are some incredibly good figures who embodied the love, compassion, and ministry of Jesus Christ and there are some incredibly bad figures who let power, greed, and sin not only corrupt their soul but also the soul of the Catholic Church. So far I like to think that Pope Francis is shaping to be one of those incredibly good figures. And while in 2013 his efforts might ultimately prove to be futile, my greatest hope is that both Catholics and Protestants will begin to reflect his selflessness, his dedication to the poor and marginalized, and his love and compassion in a way that is transformative to the world and pleasing in the eyes of God.

I wrote a post dedicated to Fred Hampton, the 21 year old Black Panther Party leader who was gunned down in his sleep on December 4, 1969, but in light of today's events it would seem more appropriate to dedicate a post to Nelson Mandela. John 15:13 states, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." I quote this verse a lot when discussing my heroes because they all understood love and ultimate sacrifice. Although Nelson Mandela did not suffer the same fate as other freedom fighters he undoubtedly sacrificed everything for the greater good of all people. He spent 27 years locked away in prison for fighting for the rights of his people. To me that is a lifetime. I haven't even been on this earth for 27 years. There will be thousands of posts written in the coming days and I don't have anything unique to offer. Nelson Mandela was a fighter, a hero, a father to a nation and to all of those who watched him from afar. So, I would like to simply say thank you to Mr. Mandela and use what little corner of this ever expanding online universe that I occupy to recognize his achievements and celebrate his life and legacy.

And here are 7 Things You Can Learn From Nelson Mandela's Life:

I once went on a twitter rant about what I described as spiritual cop-outs. I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit the topic. This time a little more in-depth. The problem I found was our tendency as Christians to create scapegoats and deflect blame when we reflect on our spirituality, whether it be sin in our life or our inability to live out the biblical call in a way that is pleasing to God.

This is not an opportunity to point fingers, rather a chance to be honest and faithful in our commitment to being obedient in our walk with God.

First, what is a cop-out? Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as:

I took that understanding of the word cop-out and applied it to the experience of Christians in American society. Therefore, a spiritual cop-out is something we say or an attitude we reflect in situations where we believe that it is in our best interest to save face by avoiding responsibility and accountability for our shortcomings. These cop-outs usually come in the form of folk theology, defined by Stanley Grenz and Roger Olsen as "a kind of theology that rejects critical reflection and enthusiastically embraces simplistic acceptance of an informal tradition of beliefs and practices composed mainly of clichés and legends.

Christians have been heralded as some of the biggest purveyors of hypocrisy in the world today. A simple Google search of the phrase, "Christian hypocrite" will give you a good précis of  how many non-Christians and some Christians feel about this problem. We Christians are often known for our judgment and condemnation of sinners in the world as if we are the shining example of true morality. Not only do we have a tendency to cast these judgments and condemnations onto non-Christians, but we also cast them onto those who share in the experience of being part of the Body of Christ. This is perhaps the reason that these cop-outs have become so common among Christians.

This list is in no particular order:

1.  The devil made me do it.
This is undoubtedly the oldest cop-out of the group, first appearing in the Book of Genesis when God asks Eve, "What is this you have done?" She replies, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." This cop-out didn't work for Eve back then and it surely doesn't work for us today. The devil can't actually make us do anything (unless of course one is demonically possessed). What the devil can do and will do is tempt us and influence us, but we still make the choice to sin and commit actions that are less than favorable in the eyes of God.

When we use this spiritual cop-out we are attempting to excuse ourselves from owning up to our sins. We are also denying various truths we find in the Bible. We read in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God will never allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to withstand. In that passage, we also see that God is gracious enough to provide an escape from temptation. Another truth is that the Holy Spirit who dwells within us is stronger than the devil (1 John 4:4). By making the devil a scapegoat we are only hurting ourselves because the fact still remains that the devil cannot make us sin. Thus, we are still going to be held accountable for the sins we have committed. Before we can correct sin we must at least admit to it.

2.  God knows my heart.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a French abbot who lived about 1000 years ago once said, "L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs," meaning hell is full of good wishes and desires. It is true that God knows whats in our hearts, but do we really know? Jeremiah 17:9 states, "The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"

We commonly use this spiritual cop-out to make up for our lack of good works. As Christians we are called to servitude. In fact, in Ephesians we read that good works are actually a result of our salvation. Our words and actions come from the heart so if our hearts are as pure and our intentions are as good as we think they are, then our lives should reflect that. God does not look past our shortcomings to our good intentions.

3.  Only God can judge me.

If not for Tupac this spiritual cop-out might not be as popular with my generation as it presently is. It is also the most difficult one to confront because it is true that God is the ultimate judge of all of us. Matthew 7:1 declares explicitly, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." This verse is the reference point for the theological understanding behind this popular idiom. We use this spiritual cop-out most often when we are living in a way that is unpleasing to God, but do not wish to hear that be identified by others. We bear the judgment of people who we feel are in no moral position to do so because of the immense planks that skew their spiritual vision.

If we examine the entire Bible and even the text within Matthew we will see that God enables man to judge. Jesus was not condemning judgment itself but hypocritical and self-righteous judgment. In John 7:24 Jesus says, "judge with right judgment." We are to judge righteously, that is not of our own understandings or opinions, but judge according to the truth that God has given us. We should keep in mind our limited ability and low discernment when our vision is impaired by our own imperfections. 

We are our brother's and sister's keepers. We are to care about one another. There is a way to be confront another's sin without being "judgmental." In 2 Timothy we are directed to, "reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching."

Avoidance of accountability leads to mediocrity in most areas of life. When we add this trait to our individual walks with Christ what we are left with is dormancy and a strong leaning toward complacency. We are stunting our spiritual growth by not properly dealing with our spiritual faults and missteps.

1.   White Men, Black Female Bodies, and Renisha McBride
Some might be scratching their heads, finding it difficult to understand why — in 2013, the same year that we commemorated the 50-year anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombings (in which four little black girls were killed by white Klansmen who were never arrested) and celebrated “how far we’ve come” as a society — we also witnessed the similarly unjust execution of Renisha McBride...continue reading
 2.   Do You See This Woman?: Renisha McBride and the Imago Dei
In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is invited over to a pharisee’s house for a dinner party. He has a place and space reserved at the table. His presence is welcomed. However, a woman realizes that Jesus will be at this home and decides to come by unannounced. However, the pharisee hosting the party only saw a “sinner”, rather than this woman who was made in the image of God...continue reading
3.   Only 19 Percent Are Women
Journalist Jonathan Merritt did a quick informal study and discovered that out of 34 prominent evangelical conferences, only 19 percent of speakers at plenary sessions were women...continue reading
4.   Answer the Call: Lifting Up Women & Girls
Over the past year, more and more Christian women have spoken out about what it means to be a woman in the public square. From the debate over Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood and whether the Bible prescribes specific roles for women to the fascinating discussions about spirituality and sexuality in Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, women of faith are wrestling with how to transcend sexism and patriarchy to cultivate their God-given gifts in the pulpit, at home, and in their daily lives...continue reading
5.   It’s Time for a Schism Regarding Women in the Church
I don’t take this lightly. I very much take Jesus’ prayer for unity in the Fourth Gospel seriously. Our eschatological hope is that the church will be one, and that we will all be united in belief, practice, and love...continue reading

Following the success of the History Channel's mini-series, The Bible, which appeared weekly last March, Hollywood seems to have renewed an avenue in which Biblical adaptations are allowed to enjoy a significant amount of limelight. Two blockbuster titles are to set to be released in 2014; Paramount Picture's Noah and 21st Century Fox's Exodus. These two films both boast a star-studded cast as directors Darren Aronofsky and Ridley Scott hope to astonish audiences by combining stunning visualizations with two of the most popular accounts from the Old Testament, the Great Flood and the Exodus out of Egypt.

As a Christian and an avid movie goer I was thrilled to read that these two films were in production. However, once I saw the actors cast to play the leading roles in these two films my excitement quickly turned to disdain. Not a single one of the leading roles in either movie was given to a person of middle eastern descent.

Some things never change. In Hollywood, whitewashing, also known as racebending, is one of many longstanding traditions (here is a brief definition and 25 examples).  Historically, this practice was used to discriminate against actors, both male and female, of color. The most common examples of this in the past were white actors dressing up in what is known as blackface, redface, and yellowface. While maybe not as controversial or blatant today, the practice of whitewashing still continues in Hollywood.

Roles from scripts that clearly call for a person of color are given to white actors. Most recently we saw this in Disney's The Lone Ranger, where Johnny Depp was cast to play the role of Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s Native American sidekick. This relegates people of color to playing roles that support a white lead and/or roles that are usually based in stereotypes. Not only is this practice offensive and hurtful to the careers of actors of color, but the imagery and message it sends out and the false reality it creates can be very damaging to the psyche of people of color.

When retelling a Biblical story the effects of whitewashing are amplified. In the case of the movies Noah and Exodus, whitewashing continues a well-established practice of white sacralization through religious indoctrination. Throughout the history of European imperialism and colonialism this type of indoctrination was present. Depictions of white only Biblical figures (including prophets, angels, Jesus, etc.) were intentionally used to subconsciously indoctrinate the false belief of white divinity (and therefore superiority) upon the minds of the oppressed and conquered.

By allowing Hollywood to hijack Biblical stories and display them however they please, we as Christians have also allowed them to be cheapened. We often miss out on cultural aesthetics, language, motifs, and overall richness  when stories are told through the lens of European ideals and thought patterns. The cultural wisdom absent from these films is essential to the contextual understanding of the stories in which they represent.

The film industry is one of America's largest exports. It is the biggest purveyor of persuasive imagery. It is the dominant strategy for communicating culture, even more so than books and television. If culture and history are not done right at the box office, they are rarely done right anywhere else, at least not where people are paying that much attention.

Hollywood operates under the assumption that white films are for everybody while films featuring actors of color are for niche audiences. This belief causes those particular films featuring actors of color to be "marginalized and ignored by broader audiences," according to Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Associate Professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

While I affirm that the Biblical message transcends race I would contend that we as a society have not yet learned how to. Therefore, race matters. When we entrust our religious narratives to Hollywood, the deep messages they contain are paired with pictures. And when those pictures never represent people of color, the message that is then conveyed is that people of color exist outside of God's spiritual imagination, that God is not available to them, that they are not seen as loved or cherished by God.

1.   To Redeem the Soul of the Black Church
Fifty years ago a preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr. came with others to our nation's capitol, challenging America to "live out the true meaning of its creed." The son and grandson of activist preachers, King was a child of the black church, a church born fighting for freedom. Accordingly, he and others organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 not simply to dismantle segregation but with this motto: "To Redeem The Soul of America...continue reading
To Miss Marissa Alexander of Florida,
First of all, I would like to say thank you, Ms. Alexander for sharing your story with the world. No matter how much the white supremacist system we call “The Prison-Industrial-Complex” may try to suppress the truth, I am grateful that you are working to expose it by contending your innocence as well as your basic right as a human being to defend yourself from life-threatening abuse...continue reading
For the past few days many have caught wind of the lack of diversity at UCLA by way of a YouTube video that has been making the rounds on social media and news outlets. Sy Stokes, the lead in the video, is a spoken-word artist in his junior at the university. Stokes is backed by a phalanx of silent black male UCLA students as he drops statistics about UCLA’s black male student population as of the 2012-2013 school year...continue reading
I grew up as a Latina in the Assemblies of God and I distinctly remember promising to wait to have sex until marriage with the song “Promise” by Jaci Velasquez playing in the background, I was 13. I remember this so clearly because the following the year a friend of mine from that church was brutally gang raped; she was a year younger than me...continue reading
When I was a Ph.D. candidate in Yale University's New Testament program, I had the honor of preaching at an ordination service for a classmate who was being ordained as a Presbyterian minister. Following the service, a number of my classmates asked me why I wanted to spend four-seven years working on a Ph.D. in New Testament when I clearly had a "gift" for preaching. I responded that it was actually my academic study of the Bible coupled with my life experiences that illumined and enlivened my preaching...continue reading
Recently I was blessed to be in the presence of someone who I love dearly. This individual and I have not had the opportunity to hang out in quite some time. Naturally, I was delighted to finally get the chance to sit down and catch up, although, because of social media there was not much that we did not already know about, as far as what was happening in each other's lives. In fact, I was fully aware of the trajectory this person's life had begun to follow over the past few years.

While I was overjoyed to spend quality time with this person, my heart was quickly shattered and my spirit was filled with despair as they began to rattle off the details of the unfortunate events that had occurred in their life. I kept a smile on my face to mirror their playful mood, but underneath I was incredibly saddened by what I was hearing. The trouble this person was in was described as merely being a part of life and part of a lifestyle they enjoyed. But I knew that there were only two outcomes of such a lifestyle, prison or death.

My loved one was morally and spiritually lost.

For some time now I have struggled in figuring out how I was to help this person. In my contemplation I was led to the 15th chapter of Luke in which Jesus tells three parables that focus on the lost. The beautiful thing about these passages is the environment Jesus creates. He attracts a crowd where everyone is lost and He creates a space where no judgment is passed (at least not from His end). The crowd consists of tax collectors and sinners who are without religion and spiritually lost, and Pharisees and scribes who are lost in their own self-righteousness.

Parable of the Lost Sheep
Parable of the Lost Coin
Parable of the Prodigal Son

After reading these passages I then had the task of discerning which parable best suited the situation at hand. I first had to come to grips with the fact that I was in some way amongst the lost and that I was not in any position to save anyone. Only God can save someone who is lost. But as a person who has been deemed by his peers to have some kind of pastoral responsibility and as a person who loves this individual, I felt a very strong urge to intervene in their life.

1 Peter 5: 2-3 states, "Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock."

In this case I wanted to play the role of the shepherd. I was more than willing to go and find this person and hopefully lead them back to Christ. However, the more I reflected on the conversation we had the more I realized that this could never happen because this person was fully aware of all the decisions they were making. They were not crying out to be saved. They had heard a million times that the path they were on was not a good one and that they needed to change their ways. Nothing I could say would be new to them. It was with that realization that I determined they would need to return home on their own will and in their own time.

As painful as it was, the best thing I could do in that situation was to continue to pray for that person and to create a loving environment similar to the one Jesus created in which that person was always welcome to return.

Throughout the Bible humans are likened to sheep. As fallen creation we have the tendency to wander from God and become lost. Fortunately, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, continuously searching for the lost. As disciples of Christ we must also involve ourselves in this form of ministry. We are reminded in 1 Peter 5:8b that we live in a world where danger looms: "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."

We are instructed to watch over God's flock. But, to fully understand the lostness of people we must involve ourselves not only in the search but also in the celebration of repentance and salvation as God has done and illustrated to us through these parables.

1.  The Jesus Legend: What Did Early Christians Really Believe?
I think it is fair to say that there are aspects of the Christian faith that rail against modern sensibilities. The miracle stories, the virgin birth, the resurrection and ascension… these all operate outside the framework of contemporary science. One of the common accusations leveled against Christianity is that these stories were developed over a period of time, adopting surrounding philosophies and mythologies, and sculpting a legend of Jesus that eventually gave birth to Christian theology generations after the life of Jesus...continue reading
2.  Has Drone Firepower Conquered Christ's Love?
For centuries, followers of Jesus have wondered how they should relate to states and governments. Recent documents from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations bring such concerns to the fore, highlighting the cruel collateral damage of many of President Barack Obama’s personally ordered drone strikes — strikes that according to the president, are legal and in accord with international law, use technology that is precise and limit unnecessary casualties, eliminate people that are real threats, and prevent greater violence...continue reading
3. Thinking About The Future of the Church
Tonight I got the opportunity to attend "Innovating Tradition: A Conversation with Two Urban Pastors on the Future of the Church." The event was held at Calvary Baptist Church in the heart of Washington, DC, and it featured pastor Amy Butler (AB) and special guest Nadia Bolz-Weber (NBW). While the context of the assembly was NBW's book tour, the real centerpiece of the conversation was how church in America must evolve to be a true source of relevant spiritual nourishment in the contemporary world. At the risk of oversimplifying, I want to remark quickly on three major themes I heard...continue reading
4.  The Nightmares
I have nightmares. I can gauge the rawness of the dream by how long it takes to feel like my normal self again. A garish nightmare will take days, maybe even a week to work through. A bad nightmare may take half a day at least. A bad dream, maybe 2-4 hours. Something someone else may articulate as merely a “weird” dream takes 15-20 minutes post waking time to come down from...continue reading
5.  Pope Francis Kisses Man With Rare Disorder Showing The Healing Power Of Compassion
Pope Francis' compassionate nature was poignantly captured in this image of him tenderly comforting a sick man by kissing him on the head...watch here
Many of us define Breast Cancer Awareness Month, also known as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), as an annual health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities every October to (1) increase awareness of the disease and to (2) raise funding for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.

Critics define Breast Cancer Awareness Month by conflicts of interest, mostly between corporations sponsoring breast cancer awareness while profiting from diagnosis and treatment. For example, Breast Cancer Action, a breast cancer advocacy organization, sites that October is now more of a public relations campaign that avoids discussion of the causes and prevention of breast cancer and instead focuses on “awareness” as a way to encourage women to have their breasts examined. Other criticisms are centered on marketing efforts of "pink products", citing that more money is spent on marketing campaigns than the amount that is donated to the cause.

People directly impacted by breast cancer, such as sufferers, survivors, friends and families of the former and the deceased, may define the most intimate and realistic details of this disease. They may even identify less with the more commercially publicized aspects of breast cancer awareness that many of us have grown accustomed to since Breast Cancer Awareness Month was established.  For example, some sufferers and supporters alike define the issue of “how to” address the subject of breast cancer awareness and breast cancer prevention, while many people simply aim to get the word out or hope to serve the cause in any way they can.

More specifically, there seem to be conflicting ideas and opinions about the designated month of October altogether, the use of the color pink to denote the month, and the added attention on breasts and the use of their likeness in campaigns and messages geared toward the cause. While this list could go on, so does the rest of the year as October passes and cancer persists. That being said, we can debate these messages and campaigns that are offensive to women, ridicule the lack of socially responsibility on behalf of certain corporations, and chastise those entities we deem unworthy of donating to charities for breast cancer, but all in all, we should note that takes us further from raising awareness about the causes and prevention of breast cancer. Is this a matter of harsh reality vs. what is ideal? Ideally, no person would ever get cancer of any kind, therefore omitting the need for this month of awareness. We can imagine that when a cure is discovered any person with cancer would be afforded the rights to have it, all of which takes us down sort of a rabbit-hole.  In reality, we can argue the correct way to address breast cancer and single out those who do it “distastefully” but that battle isn’t against cancer, so who wins? Is there a better way to bring awareness to risk factors and preventative measures associated with breast cancer? If so, continue to teach them. Is there a more “righteous”, less-breasts centered way to urge young women to pay attention to their breasts?  If so, continue to highlight them. In a just world, all supporters would have perfect and good intentions, all messages would be void of humor and sexuality that is offensive to others and full of perfect sentiments to champion the cause, and of course, no donation or marketing effort would be in vain.

As a woman who primarily acknowledges the risks, implications, and preventative measures associated with this disease, I’d like to encourage you to define breast-cancer for yourself or with your community and identify with how you or someone you know could be personally impacted by this disease in reality and how you can take action to help. For starters, do you know who's at risk, what puts you at risk, or preventative measures to keep breast cancer away? As the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month approaches, here are a few “Reality Checks” to consider for a lifetime.

Reality Check #1: The vast majority of women with breast cancer have no family history.

Get Screened. Ask your health care provider which screening tests are right for you if you are at a higher risk.  Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk. Have a clinical breast exam at least every three years starting at age 20, and every year starting at age 40.

Know what is normal for you and see your health care provider if you notice any of these breast changes:

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn't go away

Reality Check #2: Being heavy (overweight) increases your risk a whole lot—by as much as 40%. Take responsibility for the aspects of your body and health that are within your control.

Make healthy lifestyle choices. Physical activity contributes to health by reducing the heart rate, decreasing the risk for cardiovascular disease, and reducing the amount of bone loss that is associated with age and osteoporosis. Physical activity also helps the body use calories more efficiently, thereby helping in weight loss and maintenance. It can increase basal metabolic rate, reduces appetite, and helps in the reduction of body fat.

·     Avoid becoming overweight or lose weight. Obesity raises the risk of breast cancer after menopause, the time of life when breast cancer most often occurs. Avoid gaining weight over time, and try to maintain a body-mass index under 25 (calculators can be found online).

·     Eat healthy. Embrace a diet high in vegetables and fruit and low in sugared drinks, refined carbohydrates and fatty foods. Consider eating lean protein such as fish or chicken breast and red meat in moderation, if at all. Eat whole grains. Choose vegetable oils over animal fats.
      Keep physically active. Research suggests that increased physical activity, even when begun later in life, reduces overall breast-cancer risk by about 10 percent to 30 percent. For example, moderate exercise like a 30-minute walk five days a week.

Reality Check #3: Studies show that current or recent use of birth control pills (oral contraceptives) slightly increases the risk of breast cancer.

Weigh the pros and cons of birth control pill use. Although taking the pill slightly increases risk, most women on the pill are at low risk of breast cancer because they are young and premenopausal. So, even with a slight increase in risk, they are still unlikely to get breast cancer. And, once women stop taking the pill, the slight increase in risk begins to decrease and over time, goes away. Did you know: Once women stop taking the pill, their risk begins to decrease, returning to that of “never users” in about 10 years! Before making any decisions about birth control pills, you should weigh the pros and cons of using them. One area still under study is how today's lower-dose pills affect breast cancer risk. However, more research is needed to draw conclusions. At this time, there are too few data to comment on whether these pills affect breast cancer risk the same as other types of birth control pills.

Reality Check #4: Breast cancer also develops in men.

Remember to love your body; acknowledge any risk factors you identify with and safeguard your health. God Bless!

www.cancer.gov -- National Cancer Institute
www.breastcancer.org – BreastCancer.Org
www.fhcrc.org -- Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
www.komen.org -- Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
www.nbcam.org -- Official National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials -- Find clinical trials
www.breastcancer.org/risk -- More about how to reduce your risk of breast cancer

www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/breast -- More about breast cancer in men 

Follow Tiffany on Twitter: @Victory_Nicole and on Instagram: @victorynicole

1. Ja Rule Exposes My Sinful Heart
This week Marc Lamont Hill of HuffPost Live interviewed rapper Ja Rule about life after a two-year prison sentence, his new movie, “I’m in Love with a Church Girl” and his newfound faith. Much of the hip hop community has been abuzz with the news of Ja’s faith. For those who haven’t seen it, here’s the full 19-minute segment...watch here
2. “I have disabilities…I am broken but not because of my disability.”
We live in a world where people are named, categorized, and labeled based on what they can and/or cannot do. Most often, those with perceived ”disabilities” are primarily seen as less valuable, important, or worthy. In contrast to this, we know we are ALL created and made in the image of our God; this image includes our gender, ethnicity, and abilities...continue reading
3. Blessing or Privilege?
Have you ever had a conversation with someone about race, and it seemed like our Christian language was doing more harm than good by preventing the conversation from going to deeper levels of truthfulness and vulnerability? You know... someone risks tiptoeing into the murky waters by sharing a personal frustration about race relations, and all of a sudden the next person to speak is erasing the significance of the story by reciting Galatians 3:28...continue reading
4. D.C. Clergy Join Push to 'Change the Mascot'
The Oneida Indian Nation’s campaign against the Washington pro football club’s team name picked up new supporters this week when more than two dozen clergy in the Washington region committed to taking the fight to their pulpits...continue reading
5. The Most Controversial Sentence I Ever Wrote
The most controversial sentence I ever wrote, considering the response to it, was not about abortion, marriage equality, the wars in Vietnam or Iraq, elections, or anything to do with national or church politics. It was a statement about the founding of the United States of America. Here’s the sentence:...continue reading

On the opening night of the Yeezus Tour, multi-platinum, Grammy award-winning rapper Kanye West brought out an actor to portray Jesus during his concert in Seattle. Most of the time when I see "White Jesus" depicted, I don't get offended because I don't find it to be historically accurate. But between this and the title and theme of Kanye's last album, Yeezus, I was initially fed up. His antics were disrespectful, offensive, and just plain unnecessary.

Before I began to write this post I searched for concert footage of the event, but I stumbled upon an interview Kanye had with Wild 94, a hit music station in San Francisco. During the interview, which was done a few days after his Seattle performance, he was given the opportunity to explain his motives behind bringing out Jesus.

"We do plays all the time. People play Jesus,” West said. “You know what’s awesome about Christianity is we’re allowed to portray God. It’s a painting, it’s a sculpture, it’s a moving opera, it’s a play, it’s a message. God knows where my heart is at.”

Then came the comment that changed the entire direction of this post:

“One of the things that I really wanted to get across is that you can have a relationship with Jesus. That you can talk to Jesus. This is the way I express it.”

After hearing this I was forced to take a step back and reflect on the type of relationship many rappers have with Jesus. Rap music, similar to the blues, arose from the plight of the black community. We can still hear the agony, frustration, and struggle from artists who give us a glimpse into the world in which they grew up and the one in which they currently live. It is out of that anguish that many of these artists connect with the gospel.

Some of the work of artists such as Tupac Shakur, Nas, DMX, Common, Jay Z, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Joe Budden, The Clipse, Lupe Fiasco, and Kanye West can be profoundly theological. The church has been too quick to dismiss the theological implications found in the music of these artists because of the coarseness and vulgarity of the music, the contradictions that are often found in the lifestyles of these rappers, and a general lack of understanding of rap culture.

However, the faith of such artists and individuals who grew up and live in similar inner-city environments and deal with the same kind of temptations and demons (i.e., drugs, sex, and violence) is very authentic. That type of faith cannot be comprehended by middle-class or upper-middle-class Christians because the type of saving that needs to take place is not one exclusively spiritual. In fact, it cannot even be comprehended by most Christians because it is not draped in false piety.

The type of faith exhibited by these individuals is very rugged and, according to Dr. Daniel White Hodge, their theology engages, "the profane, the secular, and the sacred—an area frightening to those still etched and stooped in the hallways of simplistic and 'milk' theological paradigms."

"This type of theology," Hodge writes, "creates space outside the traditional corridors of God searching; it opens up the door for those who do not 'fit' an approved or established approach to being a spiritual person; it is the way for the n----, the thug, and the ‘hood rat to find God in a space God can meet them in."

You do not have to be holy to come to God.

That very space, outside of the norm, is a place that the church has denied recognition out of an attempt to monopolize the rules of spirituality. What we have done in the church is both erroneous and fallacious considering that biblically it is that space where we find Jesus dwelling. Matthew 28:16-20, otherwise known as the Great Commission, does not tell us to condemn, shun, or judge from afar and wait for those who have failed to abide by our precepts to come to us in shame. Jesus commands us to go. Therefore, it should be the obligation of the church to meet such individuals exactly where they are.

I consider some of the theology I have heard in rap music to be quite prophetic. Although, I will admit that not all of it is solid or strong and can lead to unsound doctrine. But instead of labeling them unChristian or belittling their faith, we should help nurture and mature it.

Many of these rappers are searching for guidance, moral vision, and ethical direction as explained by Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University. If we take their theological offerings serious it will prove to be a valuable insight on how to affect change in an urban setting where most individuals would identify with hip-hop culture.

I’m still unsure of how I feel about Mr. West’s onstage conversation with Christ. After hearing him give the meaning of the portrayal and the intent behind it, I don’t find it nearly as offensive and disrespectful as I initially did. It may have been over the top, but what better place to bring out Jesus than at a rap concert?
Life is hard. No matter who you are at some point in time you have felt this overwhelming feeling. For many of us it centers on money or family or life decisions or all of those and more. Interestingly enough no one seems to be able to escape this feeling. Not even the rich and famous are immune; in fact in some ways maybe it takes an even greater toll on them. How often do we see troubled celebrities, people that we just wish we had half of what they have or could be half as famous as they are? How often are we baffled when we hear that our favorite celebrity, that we love and envy, has been admitted to rehab or even worse committed suicide? Life undoubtedly has its challenges and they always seem to hit at just the worse time and in the worse way possible.

The interesting thing is everyone’s life hardships are different and it’s not really fair to condemn anyone for not having challenges that are as bad as others. This thing called life comes in many shapes and sizes. A person who can’t afford to pay their car note this month because they lost their job and now may lose their transportation to a new job has the right to worry just as much as a mom who has 4 children in a small village in some third world country and can’t provide them with the food or shelter they need. 
Now of course, we can all agree that some hardships are definitely worse than others in the grand scheme of things. At the end of the day the person who can’t pay his car note probably still has food to eat and a roof over his head for a little while and has a decent chance of finding another job that will restore his way of life or maybe family that is in a decent enough situation to help. Whereas, the mother who can’t supply for her children is probably surrounded by poverty with no real or imaginable way out. 

All this helps me put things into perspective as it relates to my life and the hardships I come across. Many people wonder why I am always so upbeat, happy, or nonchalant and it’s because I live by the saying, "It could always be worse". I didn't make it up and I'm sure you have heard it before but  I do a pretty good job of putting it to use. In fact the bible speaks to this in Matthew 6:27-29 NLT, "Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are." The thing is, this saying only works for me because of my strong faith in Jesus Christ and the lord above. 

I realize how truly blessed I am everyday compared to others in this world. I didn’t do anything extra to deserve not to be born in a third world country or to have two loving parents. I don't deserve 99% of the good fortune I have any more than the next person, but God blessed me with it. So how dare I take it for granted or fail to put things into perspective when things get rough. My other saying is, "My worst day is 10 times better than some people’s best day." How can I possibly let a rough day get me down when I say that out loud??? The bible speaks to this in Philippians 4:11-12 ESV, "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need." 

Staying positive and hopeful because you know you dwell in God’s grace is an amazing feeling and I believe it perpetuates. Worrying and being negative only takes a greater toll on the human body. Proverbs 17:22 ESV states, "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." My dad instilled in me the value of not wasting time worrying about things because God has blessed me with the talent and strength to do anything and overcome anything. I leave you with this, when times get hard believe harder, stay positive, and move forward with God. 
Romans 15:13 ESV, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."

1.  WATCH: God's Justice Never Shuts Down — Jim Wallis on #FaithfulFilibuster
Jim Wallis talks about the #FaithfulFilibuster outside the Capitol Building and offers a reading of his conversion text, Matthew 25...watch here
2.  Where There Is No Guidance
Proverbs 11:14 speaks volumes in the context of the black community. It is no secret that African American communities tend to be plagued with poor school systems, poor medical access, high incarceration rates, broken families, and of course (in light of the recent Trayvon Martin incident), violence and profiling. With all of these factors and stressors in life, it is of little wonder that many Blacks appear to be self-destructing...continue reading
3.  Faithful Filibuster: Christian leaders read Scripture, exhort Congress to care
Under a cloudy and drizzly sky, across the street from the U.S. Capitol, David Beckmann read passages from the prophet Isaiah. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,” read Beckmann,  president of Bread for the World and one of several Protestant and Catholic leaders who gathered Wednesday (Oct. 9) to launch...continue reading
4.  Can Online Communion Be a Substitute for the Real Thing?
As online worship becomes more common in some churches, leaders within the United Methodist Church are debating whether the denomination should condone online Communion. About 30 denominational leaders met last week after Central United Methodist Church in Concord, N.C., announced plans to launch an online campus that potentially would offer online Communion...continue reading
5.  When Love Walks Away
For some reason, there is this piece of relationship advice that says “if you love something, let it go.” Quite honestly, I’ve found this to be remarkably poor advice. A relationship, after all, is a commitment. It means that when challenge arises (and it will), both parties are committed to working through it. The idea of simply walking away only enters the picture when all other avenues have been explored and the only healthy option for both people is to go their own separate ways...continue reading

At the end of the summer many of us watched the verdict in the Zimmerman case with great concern, even worry. We sat with knotted stomachs, aching hearts, and frazzled nerves waiting for a just verdict but anticipating one that would once again bring us to a very unsettling place around the issues of race and violence in America. We’ve been here too many times before – stuck in a vortex of sorts, where we struggle mightily for a moral anchor for our feelings, our fears, and our outrage but knowing all the while that as a society we lack the moral courage to confront ourselves and our history.

As a Black clergy person, who is working with PICO National Network’s Lifelines To Healing Campaign, I was praying for a verdict that would demonstrate that the American justice system possessed both the capacity and the intent to value Black life. Waiting for that same system to demonstrate to the American people that the laws and policies that preserve the fruits of democracy for the privileged are also extended to those who live at the margins. Simply put, I and many of my clergy colleagues, and so many other Americans, were waiting for a sign that the instruments of justice and governance would bend to include us.

We waited for the Supreme Court to render its verdict re-validating the Voting Rights Act. Sadly, in my estimation, we waited in vain. We waited for the verdict from the Supreme Court that we hoped would lend new support for affirmative action strategies as remedy for long-standing racial inequities in higher education and employment. Again, we waited in vain. As we mourned the senseless loss of life in Newtown earlier in the year and the veritable orgy of violence and death ongoing in Chicago, we patiently waited for the administration and Congress to act on sensible gun legislation. Our waiting again, produced no fruitful policy change, no legal respite, no moral response.

And we waited for a Florida jury to pass judgment on a case that brings into question many of our deepest racial fears and animosities. Waiting this time, for an all-white Southern jury to render a verdict that would bring justice to a case, that had at its heart the senseless loss of a precious child, seemed like the most perverse kind of waiting. We’re waiting for the time when true racial justice will be realized, and knowing in our hearts all along that that time has not yet arrived because we haven’t the moral courage or clarity to work to make it so.

Fifty years ago, at the height of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pricked the nation’s moral conscience in a letter that he penned from a dank jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama. He declared with great moral exasperation that the time for waiting for justice had come and gone.  At the top of his prophetic voice he proclaimed, “For years now I have heard the word "wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see…that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

His words still ring true today; we cannot continue to wait for justice. We shouldn’t expect that the wheels of the American system will turn in our direction without applying the grease of moral outrage and organized action. We should not expect that which we are not willing to labor for, even suffer for.

Dr. King goes on in his letter to indict our tendency to wait on justice as a “tragic misconception of time.” He asserts that in all of our waiting we conspire with those of “ill will” to delay, defer and deny. We misuse time to allow us distance from the moral imperative of “now action” and we allow time to seduce us into complacency - and ultimately complicity.

Time is on the side of those with moral courage. Time is on the side of those who would work to make commonsense gun laws the law of the land. Time is on the side of those who would fight for voting rights for every American, including those returning from incarceration. Time is on the side of those who would advance laws ensuring everyone a fair chance at opportunity. Time is on the side of those who value the lives of young Black men.

We must pull ourselves out of this moral vortex. We must carry our voices into the public square and have our say on issues that define our democracy and determine our freedoms. We must organize our communities to develop collective power. And we must use that power to press for real justice - now is the time to challenge ourselves to use time in the service of justice.

- Rev. Alvin Herring is the Director of Training and Development for The PICO National Network

The Lifelines to Healing Campaign is a national movement of the PICO network of faith-based organizations and congregations committed to addressing the causes of pervasive violence and crime in our communities. We believe that the criminalization and mass incarceration of people of color, coupled with the lack of meaningful and quality opportunities, have contributed to a state of crisis in our country. Lifelines to Healing is committed to advocating for policies and resources that contribute to the healing of our communities.

1. Dispensationalists Are Wrong – Things Aren’t Getting Worse [Questions That Haunt]
Dispensationalism is a recent and minority opinion. Invented in the 19th century, it is premised on a particularly literalistic reading of particular Bible passages in Revelation, Daniel, and certain sayings of Jesus. In order to be a Dispensationalist, for example, one must completely ignore the realities surrounding the apocalyptic genre of literature in the Ancient Near East — realities that make sense of the “revelations” in Daniel, Revelation, and even in Jesus’ more apocalyptic sayings...continue reading
2. Can A Community Of Faith Decrease Recidivism?
Does anyone love me? Is there a point to all this? We all tend to ask ourselves these questions time and time again. For a person coming out of jail, these questions seem to have even more weight. Does anyone love me after what I've done? Where is my life going after being behind bars...continue reading
3. 3 Reasons You Should Reject the Prosperity Gospel
Many preachers of Los Angeles, New York, and every city in between are proclaiming what has come to be known as “the prosperity gospel.” The prosperity gospel is a label used to describe the popular teaching that Christians are promised prosperity in their finances, health, and life pursuits as God’s response to their faith in him and his promises...continue reading
4. I’m a Christian and I Swear…Occasionally.
I swear now. I haven’t always swore. I started swearing more -in jest- when I started Seminary and met a more liberal Christian than I’d been used to. But it’s been the past two years that kicked it up a notch. It wasn’t a big deal until I started being more free with my choice words online. Today, I’m linking up with Bethany Suckrow’s Explicit Realities, Explicit Language post about how she was confronted on behalf of my language...continue reading
5. Replacing Faith with Curiosity
Every day, my previously stable faith is replaced with a little more hungry curiosity. I consider this progress. Have posted this brief statement on my Facebook and twitter accounts yesterday and promptly received quite a bit of interest in return. Not surprising, really, that my typical readership would resonate with such a claim, but I also found some surprising affirmations from those I would not have expected to appreciate my sentiments...continue reading

"I'm convinced," said Martin Luther King Jr., "that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-centered' society."

Dr. King, like many other leaders throughout history who strove to affect change, had the daunting task of appealing to the moral conscience of society. Ensuring that the moral arc of the universe continues to bend toward justice is now the responsibility of this generation, for "the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality." Albeit, the complexity of the issue has seemed to grow, the fundamental adjuration is still to recognize and respect the humanity of one another. As a nation we are still making strides toward not judging by the color of one's skin, but by the content of one's character.

Racism, America's original sin for which she has yet to repent, began as an evil ideology, but has now blossomed into an even more sinister institution still controlling the minds and the hearts and the bodies of millions. The embodiment of this is now most noticeable in the prison system. It has been called, "the new Jim Crow" — the disproportionate mass incarceration of Black and brown people in this country. 

Americans make up about five percent of the world population while twenty-five percent of the world's inmates have been incarcerated here. The rate of recidivism is so high in the United States that most inmates who enter the system are likely to reenter within a year of their release. Despite what the general population might believe, the expanding prison population in the U.S. is not a symptom of increasing crime rates. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, crime rates in the United States peaked between the 1970s and early 1990s, but have steadily declined since with rates approximately the same as the 1960s. Crime rates have decreased while incarceration rates have increased. There are many more statistics I could quote here, but the bottom line is this is simply unacceptable and must change immediately. In his book, The Fall of the Prison, author Lee Griffith writes, "Prisons are self-defeating because they foster the very behaviour they purport to control. They generate the hatred and hostility they claim to correct."

As Christians, we must be at the forefront of the movement to end mass incarceration and to abolish prisons not just because of what the Bible says about justice, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration, but also because of what it says about prisons and prisoners and our responsibilities toward them. 

"Scripture records some of the worst crimes and most heinous violence the world has ever known. But nowhere in scripture do we find a divine endorsement of prisons," writes Mark Olson. Hebrews 13:3 states, "Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." Here the word remember is loaded. We are called to do more than merely think about those in prison. We are called to care for them and share in their suffering.

If we are to care for those who are incarcerated and for those targeted by the prison-industrial complex then we must also critique "society's increasing reliance on prison as a strategy for social control," says Dr. Christopher Marshall of Tyndale Graduate School of Theology in Auckland, New Zealand. He goes on to say, "Even if we cannot subscribe to a complete prison abolitionist agenda, the direction of biblical teaching, and the logic of God's self-revelation as the One who sets prisoners free (Psalm 102:19-20), should surely drive all Christians to stand against every attempt to expand the prison system." We must fight to move beyond retribution to restoration and healing as the latter is more in tune with biblical justice. 

As Christians and as a society we have been quick to forget and cast aside those incarcerated. We demonize and often look down upon anyone who has served time. We act as if major figures in the Bible, that we now study and love, were not guilty of violent crimes. Where would we be as a faith group if they had not received God's(and society's) grace, mercy, and forgiveness? How can we get people to see the humanity in those who are so vilified? Not everyone in jail or prison is a murderer, rapist, or kingpin drug dealer. How can we appeal to the moral conscience of fellow Christians to garner support for this movement? What would it look like if the outward expression of justice, mercy, forgiveness, peace, hope, and love defined our walk as Christians? 
"I call on the young men [and women] of America who must make a choice today to take a stand on this issue. Tomorrow may be too late." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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