Your Integrity is not Flammable

By Nichola Torbett, a sermon re-posted from her blog The Longing is the Compass

I am grateful to Marvin K. White and the members of Glide Memorial Church for inviting me to bring this word on Sunday, July 25, 2021. The focus scripture is Daniel 3. If you prefer, you can watch the video here, following a short introduction from Marvin.

There is a part of you that can never be taken from you, cannot be sullied, cannot be co-opted, cannot be killed. This part of you is something I will call your integrity. It is made up of who you are created to be, the people you come from, the web of life that has sustained you all these years. Your integrity is your umbilical cord connecting you to the source of all the love in the universe. And that connection can never ever be severed. It CAN be ignored. It can be buried. You can try to walk away from it, but it will never actually leave you. Your integrity is not flammable.

Let me tell you a story.

Once, not so very long ago, there were three young people. History has assigned them he/him pronouns, but I don’t think history ever asked them about that, so we will call them by their names. Except that their real names have been lost. You see, these youngsters…their people had been overrun by a mighty and land-hungry empire, and the most promising young people, including our subjects here, were taken away as prisoners of war, seized from their families and communities and brought to the emperor’s court, where they were “educated,” “civilized” if you will. As part of this process, these young people were given new names, names from the imperial language, names that maybe were easier for their captors to pronounce, names that made more sense to the good citizens of the empire. How many know that naming is power? Our friends’ new names were Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego. 

And they were smart and talented kids, so the functionaries of the land groomed them for leadership—within the very empire that had ripped their lives apart. This is what empires do—they offer us secure roles n exchange for our loyalty to the regime. 

Anyway, around this time, the emperor fashioned for himself a god, a golden statue just outside the courtly walls. I don’t know the name of this god, but it might have been named The Economy, or Profit Margin, or Respectability,, or Social Status, or Whiteness, or Buy Now Before This Deal Gets Away—something like that. And then the emperor issued a decree to all those who kept the empire running—the judges and lawyers, the doctors and nurses, the teachers and nonprofit directors, the pastors and the Amazon warehouse workers. “Henceforth,” he said, because he liked to use fancy words like that, “whenever you hear the sound of the advertising jingle, the cash register, the Venmo app, the police siren, the national anthem, the text notification, or the ice cream truck, you will bow down and worship the god of the empire, and whoever does not bow down and worship will be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.

Continue reading “Your Integrity is not Flammable”

We are Saved in Wonder

Today, we celebrate the 200th episode of “The Word is Resistance,” a SURJ-Faith podcast. This is an excerpt from the transcript, words from Nichola Torbett. Click here to listen to the full episode: Justice and Peace Shall Kiss.

Now, I am grateful to my Jewish cantor friend, Shira Stanford-Asiyo, who taught me that “fearing God” in Hebrew actually means something more like “standing in awe before God” (or sitting or lying down in awe, if that’s what your body can do). In other words, we are saved in awe. We are saved in wonder. We are saved as we orient ourselves in grateful relationship to God and to the redwood tree and the dung beetle and the Milky Way, and every single person alive, including people we can’t see because they are incarcerated, they are in immigrant detention, they are living under the freeway, or they are on the other side of some border wall; we come to know ourselves in relationship to all of these.  We are saved as we feel deep in our bones, simultaneously how tiny we are, relative to this swirling starscape, and how beloved we are, all of us, by the Creator of all of it. There is no way to hold onto supremacy thinking in the face of all this. We come to realize that we know only a little, only what we can see from this tiny spot where we sit. We are saved in humility, the earthy cousin of awe. “Salvation is at hand for those who are in awe.”

Continue reading “We are Saved in Wonder”

God’s Been Framed

By Nichola Torbett

This sermon was preached Sunday, June 6, 2021–the first Sunday of Queer Liberation Month–at First Congregational Church of Oakland. The focus scripture is Genesis 3: 8-15. You can also watch a video of the sermon here.

The scripture you just heard about Adam, Eve, and the snake is an origin story, and like all stories we tell about ourselves, it has been crafted to make us look a certain way. But before we get into that, I’m hoping that, no matter how you have thought about this dusty old story in the past, you can hear it afresh this morning.

And this time, I hope you can feel the cool of the evening breeze and hear the way it stirs the leaves on the trees and wafts the seeds to the ground to foment more life. I hope you can smell the flowers that have grown from the processed food of the worms and hear the buzz of the drowsy bees as they fertilize their last fruit of the night. This time I hope you notice the way the trees sigh out oxygen that the lions and lambs and hiding humans breath in, and the way the Egyptian plover cleans the teeth of the dozing crocodile, the way all of it works together. I hope you can feel the way the garden grows pregnant with presence as God moves in and that you can sense the yearning in God’s voice as God calls out “Where are you? Where are you?”

Continue reading “God’s Been Framed”

Stumbling Into the Kingdom: How the “Share Your Stimulus” Project Is Showing Us God’s Heart

By Nichola Torbett

Whenever an idea comes to me that does not a) make me look heroic (ego), b) have a high drama factor (also ego), or c) involve a whole pile of complex work that I can lose myself in (addiction), I figure it is probably from God.

That was the case with the Share Your Stimulus initiative. It was right after my prayer time in late December, and I was reading a think-piece someone had posted on Facebook. The piece explained that the $600 stimulus checks that had just been approved by Congress were not effective at targeting relief to those who need it most—those who have lost jobs, don’t have bank accounts, don’t have a relationship with the IRS, don’t have mailing addresses, etc. In fact, many of those people would not get checks at all.

Continue reading “Stumbling Into the Kingdom: How the “Share Your Stimulus” Project Is Showing Us God’s Heart”

Welcoming Illegal Life: Disciplines of Readiness

adventA compelling Advent offering from radical disciples in the Bay. 
Somewhere in this country–out in the desert or under a freeway or in some cramped tenement apartment–an illegal baby is being born, brown-skinned and beautiful and trailing the wisdom of the ancestors that we need for this time. We can’t tell you where this birth is happening; if we did, Herod would deport mother and child, or worse. But it is happening. It is always happening.
And wherever new life is being birthed, it is vulnerable and under threat. New life, if it is genuinely new, is a danger to the systems of deathliness amidst which we live, and so new life is endangered everywhere. Women are being subjected to forced hysterectomies in immigrant detention camps while the right of any woman to have sovereignty over her birthing capabilities is under siege throughout the country.
How do we ready ourselves to welcome and protect illegal life–in the world and within ourselves? What are the disciplines of readiness? This is what we will attend to in this four-session Advent series. 
Something is being birthed in you and in us. Let’s prepare together:
Tuesdays, December 1-22
7:30-9 ET/ 4:30-6 PT
By donation to support the work of the facilitators
About the facilitators
Rev. Lynice Pinkard is a Black writer, teacher, healer, pastor, and public intellectual operating at the intersection of Christianity, economics, and social change. Her current work is dedicated to decolonizing the human spirit and freeing people from what she calls “empire affective disorder.” Her commitment is to inspire and nurture a new generation of Spirit-filled servant leaders dedicated to the remediation of day-to-day suffering, the building of collective resilience for transformative change, and the pursuit of structural and systemic justice in the world.
Nichola Torbett is a white spiritual seeker, recovering addict, gospel preacher, racial justice podcaster, nonviolent direct action trainer, and petsitter. She is committed to helping other white people recognize their own trauma and discontent as catalysts for the dismantling of systems of oppression that are killing us all, and killing Black and Brown people first. She is grateful to First Congregational Church of Oakland and Second Acts as her primary communities of accountability.
Lynice and Nichola have been teaching, writing, and fomenting communities of recovery and resistance together for eleven years. Forged by mutual longing, love, and shared risk, their cross-racial friendship forms the basis for the transformative work they do with others.

I Asked the Redwoods

I-Asked-the-Redwoods-by-Nichola-Torbett_800_600_90
The face of the Redwood. Alameda, California, January 2015. Pussreboots CC.

By Nichola Torbett. This article appeared in Geez magazine, Summer 2020, Geez 57: CO₂conspirators: Communing with Trees.

A couple weeks ago, walking in the redwoods with a dog, at the suggestion of adrienne maree brown, I decided to ask the trees about COVID-19.

Basically, what I heard from the trees is that even this virus has a message for us if we are willing to hear it. No, they were not saying that “God created a virus to punish us” – trust me, I checked, because I have not forgotten the 1980s. But they were clear that there was a message. Continue reading “I Asked the Redwoods”

The Yoke’s on Us

UrsulaBy Nichola Torbett

The following is a sermon I preached at Open Door United Methodist Church today. The scripture is Isaiah 58: 1-12.

I was reminded this week of a short story by science fiction writer Ursula LeGuin. The story is called “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” It’s the story of a city called Omelas. Imagine a place where everyone lives happy, peaceful, rich lives, a place filled with music and dancing and cultural expression, where everyone has what they need.

Well, almost everyone. There is one exception. A small one. Very small, in fact.

In a tiny, dark mop closet of a dank, unfinished basement in a single building within this vibrant and beautiful city lives a small child—emaciated, terrified, and alone. She has been in there for years, but you wouldn’t guess how old she is, because her development—physical, intellectual, and emotional—has been stunted by neglect and malnourishment. The only interruption to her unending empty terror comes when someone rattles the door open and slides in some meager food. At these times, she cries out, “Please help me! I promise I’ll be good! Just let me out. I’ll be so good! Just help me!” But every time, the door slams closed and she is left in the dark. Continue reading “The Yoke’s on Us”

An Uneasy Peace

NicholaBy Nichola Torbett (in center of photo, blockading Wells Fargo in San Francisco in solidarity with Line 3 Pipeline fighters/water protectors). Sermon re-posted with permission from The Longing is the Compass blog

I choked my own self up preaching this sermon (Sunday, May 26) at the very hospitable and loving Park Presidio United Methodist Church. The scripture is John 14: 23-31.

Happy Eastertide! Although, if you’re anything like me, Easter feels like a long time ago, we are still in the liturgical season of Easter, which I think maybe we take a little too blithely, honestly. I mean, resurrection is just plain weird. Let’s admit it. The guy was dead, and then he wasn’t.

Isn’t. Continue reading “An Uneasy Peace”

Jesus and the Nice White Lady

NicholaBy Nichola Torbett

*This is part of a series of pieces from contributors all over North America each answering the question, “How would you define radical discipleship?” We will be posting responses regularly on Mondays during 2019.

Then someone from the part of occupied Turtle Island known as the Midwest came to him and said, “Teacher, I want to follow you. I want to access that eternal life I have heard about–that rich, juicy, for-real life, and most of the time I feel like I’m walking around with a film of plastic between me and the world. My therapist says maybe it’s dissociation from when I was a kid…. Continue reading “Jesus and the Nice White Lady”

Radical Book Recommendations

NicholaNichola Torbett of Oakland’s Seminary of the Street recently posted this great question:

Radical Christian friends, what books do you recommend that do deep exegesis of Matthew and Luke of the sort that Ched Myers has done on Mark and Wes Howard-Brook has done with John? And actually, while I have your attention, what are your indispensable go-to books for radical Christian inspiration?

Here are some of the responses: Continue reading “Radical Book Recommendations”