Hope Out of Darkness

I wonder where most people gain hope in their lives. I teach religion and see the decline of good old-fashioned,organized, institutional religion. So, if faith or belonging to a religious group or community has been source for maintaining hope in the last, where does that come from going forward?

I am doing a wedding today. And weddings are incredibly hopeful events. They used to be connected to faith communities, that’s why as a pastor, I do them. But like most of my colleagues could attest, weddings are now distantly connected to the church. That doesn’t mean the people who are getting married no longer have belief, or faith, it just means they are decreasingly connected to a meaningful faith community.

Hope is part of the theme of today. And I see glimpses of hope everywhere. The Covid-19 vaccine is a hopeful thing. Spring has just brought us out of a dismal winter season. And people all around are finding ways to reconnect with friends and family after the pandemic quarantine. But there is also a dark cloud that lingers. Young people are captured by depression and anxiety. Suicide rates are up. And people are more lonely now than ever. And that was true before the quarantine!

I’d there is hope to be had. And if the church no longer is the broker of it like a religious commodity, how do hold into it and foster it for the sake of our sanity and wholeness? I’d love to know what you think. I’ll write more this week.

Activist? Prophet? Protestor?

I have always tried to stay below the radar. I don’t like to make people angry and I certainly do not want to put myself or my family in harms way. What if I say something that hurts someone? What if I make someone mad? It’s not just me they will be mad at, but I am a Reverend – they will blame the church or God. So, I pick and choose when I say something. And…now is the time.

Some background. My family is filled with activists. Not in the way you might think. They don’t, to my knowledge, wear Black Lives Matter shirts or go to marches. Let’s start with my mom. She pushed to adopt me. Her family is from Texas and in the extended family tree, there is deeply rooted racism. When she wanted to adopt a Mexican baby, an aunt asked why she wouldn’t just get a dog. When they first met me, they just stared. And would not engage with me. My mother stubbornly made me her own and thus created a chasm between her and her family. Activism.

I remember a conversation with my grandfather before he passed away. He referred to a new family moving in down that street as a van full of N*******. I was shocked, but knew he had grown up in a racist environment and was held deeply by those prejudices. And I also knew that he was my hero and I deeply loved him. So, I asked him why he called them that word. I knew it was wrong. He said he was afraid. I looked him in the eye and said that if they are that word, then I am that word. I asked him not to call them that and we sat in awkward silence. Later that week my grandma told me that he had walked down the hill and introduced himself to the new family and offered any help they might need. Activism.

When I was in 2nd grade, my group of friends ruled the school. We called ourselves, The Group. And we really held most of the social power in the 2nd grade. We played together and hung out. We destroyed property and made other kids feel left out. I vividly remember standing in a circle in the covered play area at recess one day and the undeniable leader of our Group suggested that we give ourselves nicknames. I don’t remember any of their names, because they did not stick, but I was given my name. Brownie. I immediately hated that name and did not want to be known by anything other than David. My given name, it means Beloved of God. And I always knew that because my activist mom reminded me of that anytime someone treated me different or looked down on me. I was Brownie for a year before the nicknames faded. But, I have always been Brownie. That day in the covered area was the first time I realized that I wasn’t David to my friends, I was brown.

One day I was working with my dad in the garage. He loved working and tinkering on cars. I did not. I read books and played football. He engineered things and fixed cars. There was a gap between my dad and I. I love him. He is brilliant and caring. And hilarious. He is kind and he has overcome challenges in his life that not many would take and still come at life with a smile and hug. In one garage conversation I was working and my dad just out of the blue said, “David, close your mouth when you are working.” Why? Who cares? Because you do not look intelligent like that and I don’t want anyone to ever judge you. Someone will think you are dumb. Someone will think you are dirty. Someone will think you are lazy. You have to be better than that. You have to prove that you belong. Prophecy.

My daughter asked me recently if I had every been pulled over and felt afraid. Ha!!! I am 48, got my license when I was 17. 31 years. I have been pulled over about 35 times in my life. That may seem like a lot, but it seems normal to me. I had 14 tickets by the time I was 21. I lost my license because of that and didn’t drive for 2 years. I was without the privilege. Each time I get pulled over, I hurriedly get my license and registration out before the office approaches my window, so I am safe. You know, so they will see me as safe. I put my hands on the steering wheel or out of the window. I sure don’t get out of the car. I did that once. Never again. I had a lead foot for a long time – 28 in 25 zones, you know. One time, I got pulled over by a state trooper. He approached my car and took my papers. He came back and asked if I knew him. I did not. He asked if I was a pastor. hmmm. Yes. He was a member of my large congregation and he gave me a warning. I guess I am privileged.

I got a scholarship in grad school. It was huge. When I was in high school my school counselor said I should aim for community college. It was the opportunity that was within reach for me. I wasn’t a good student. I was stubborn and refused to do my homework. And my grades suffered. I eliminated many opportunities. But I always thought that I was capable of performing academically. I did end up going to community college (Go Dolphins!) and on to the University of Washington. After that I looked at law school and ended up going to Princeton Theological Seminary. In my second year, I was made aware of a denominational scholarship that was set up for Native American students studying theology and seminary. I applied and was awarded the scholarship. After the award letter came, I then received even better news. The fund had not disbursed any funds due to the lack of Native American studying at the graduate level, and I was going to have my first two years of school paid for!! Now, a lot of students at the seminary benefit from the generous need based scholarship. Due to my age as and having frugally saved for 5 years, I was not given the typical aid package. So, the scholarship I was to receive was in excess of $45k. Amazing! …Until they asked for my BIA number as proof that I was Indian. I said I don’t have a number, nor would I ever. I don’t trust the BIA or its history. I did say I could send a picture or share the numerous times I had been treated differently because of my appearance. This evidence was not sufficient. I asked if it was because of the donors demand. It was. I vented on the woman who delivered this bad news. She cried, I was mad. I asked her if she knew what it was called to give something to someone and then to take it away. There was a long spell of silence as my question hung mercilessly in the air. it was cruel to her to bear the weight of my anger. But the question still stands. I ended the call by saying, I will be fine. I work hard, I don’t need your money. But don’t ever fool yourself into thinking you are about helping people like me. You are just a tool and an instrument in the system. Buh. Bye. Activism, Prophecy, Protest.

I could spend the next 3 days telling these stories. And I feel like I have been protected from a ton of racism and White supremacy. I have privilege. I have love and support. I have White friends and family who have stood by me.

PROTEST. That is where I am at. I ordered an “I Can’t Breathe – Black Lives Matter” T-shirt and am trying to get a #43 NASCAR hat. When I learned that a noose had been put in the garage of Bubba Wallace. After weeks of protests, weeks of people of all colors marching, weeks of news coverage on racial issues, this is the thing that sent me over the edge. I was awake until 2:30 last night. Enraged. As mad as I have been since my scholarship phone call, since my high school cross country coach was surprised I actually worked hard as an athlete and claimed that I was different than the others. A television commentator opined that this is a good thing. The tide is turning and racist people are nervous. “Good. Bring it on”. These actions need to happen in the light of day. Don’t hide behind hoods or secrecy. Don’t let your evil thoughts just guide your covert actions. Stand up and let the world know who you are. And then be ready for the consequences. Let the people around you challenge your backward thinking. Engage in conversations. I will buy the coffee. Confederate flags need to go. They are dog whistles. States rights can happen without the thin argument that the Civil War was about freedom – White freedom. The story of our country is apartheid and genocide. Let’s own it!! And make something of the ashes of our history.

Fear makes people replace dialogue with the cowardly violent message of a noose. Fear makes people defend a battle flag that wasn’t even used by the treasonous forces it is attributed to. Fear makes you lock your doors when I walk through a parking lot at night.

Until we can do this, let’s not stop protesting. Read this. The war ended, but the stubborn sin continued. End it now

Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Speech.

“Fellow countrymen: at this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends is as well known to the public as to myself and it is I trust reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

“On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it ~ all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place devoted altogether to saving the Union without war insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war ~ seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

“One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves not distributed generally over the union but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen perpetuate and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered ~ that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses for it must needs be that offenses come but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God must needs come but which having continued through His appointed time He now wills to remove and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him. Fondly do we hope ~ fervently do we pray ~ that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’

“With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”


I am someone who lives my life preparing for what is just beyond where I am at now. If I am honest, and I want this space to be one of vulnerability and honesty, it is because I have always lived with a deep sense of dissatisfaction and even shame. I have had a need to move on. To seek what is just beyond the curve ahead.

Where I am at, has been forged as an unsafe and undesirable place. I don’t know if that comes from my being orphaned as a baby and living in foster care, or some other deficit. But it is the reality I have come to accept. Until today.

Today I look at the two points in my life as acceptable, beautiful and whole. The two points are where I am and where I want to go. Like how a line is made. Draw two points and there you have it.

For my whole life I have seen the two points this way: the point where I am at- and desperately need to claw my way out of and the point where I should be- you know the point where the other people are who are happy and have all they want and need.

Seriously. That is how I have lived my life. Exhausted and broken.

At 47, in the midst of a career change, new place to live and many of my systems of structure in flux, I am realizing that I actually love, not just love but adore with all of my heart the two points of my life.

Horizon point: the point I am looking out toward. I’m starting work this fall as a chaplain at middle and high school. I get to plan chapels- sacred space of sanctuary, healing, hope and flourishing for a student body and school community that is open to learn and grow. I get to encourage, walk alongside and help others make sense of the ups and downs of life. All in an environment of humble excellence. I am hopeful because I have confidence that I am really good at the things I think this community really needs. That is Buechner’s definition of vocation and I am happy to take this vocational step.

Point 2: where I am at. The point that starts the journey. This is usually the tension point in my life. It has been the painful place that motivated me to leave and strive, scratch and claw, and work so hard to eliminate the current reality that would be my future regret. But as I assess the point where I am at, I see beauty. I see strength. I see connection. I see wholeness. I have sensed this for a while and it has scared me. What if my motivation is gone? Have I fought the big fight of my life and now I am empty? Kind of like a ball player who doesn’t know what to do when they retire.

But that fear has left me. I now see my two daughters. Two amazing people who are so different from each other that it isn’t even funny. Yet with a vein of will and strength that screams warrior spirit. I imagine that they would be the ones who gave up last on some snowy battlefield. They would be the ones who stood tallest in the face of some 19th century colonizer. But they live in comfort and safety, so that will stands on the shoulders of other fighters history.

They are a legacy that is whole. Not fractured and broken. And in them I am become whole.

I got into a fight with my oldest last night. We yelled and screamed and argued our points. And in the end I realized that we were both fighting for connection and space in each other’s life. We cried and hugged and prayed. And I felt whole. And she felt whole.

This is what I fight for in my life now. Not for things I have fought for in the past-food or identity or value or meaning. I am fighting for connection and a hug and a space to pray.

The two points in my life that define the line of David are both beautiful. One is not greater or more worthy than the other. This is a cataclysmic and cosmic, existential shift for me. It has unnerved me for years. But today it leaves me with an ability to love deeply. And fight for something positive.

I am grateful for the wholeness I live with today. 2 years of BJJ. A lifetime of experience. Faith that sustains. Oss.

Travel with Your Gi

I have learned now to pack light and leave room for my Gi. The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community can be an amazing place to make connections and meet some great people. I’m sure there is the chance to drop into a school or gym and have a terrible experience. But, I have found that it is a great addition to any trip to find some mats and train.

My affiliation has hundreds of schools across the world but I have also dropped in outside Gracie Barra and was accepted. There are great folks out there willing to share the BJJ experience.

Things to remember: check the schedule, call ahead, respect their school rules and don’t be a tool trying to prove yourself.

Pictures from: Gracie Barra San Clemente 2018 with Prof. Felipe Guedes; Gracie Barra Carlsbad 2019 with Prof. Aaron Collins; Back at Coach Doug’s lunch class at GB San Clemente in 2019; Ricardo Almeida BJJ In 2018 with my coach and teammates and Prof. Ricardo; Gracie Barra Athens Greece in 2018- amazing international hospitality!; Atos BJJ in 2018 with Prof. Andre Galvao.

The best people.

I am grateful for my life and the people I get to live with and around.

I am struck today that the greatest blessing I have is that I get to interact with people who have high character, creative vision and a willingness to sacrifice comfort to help create a better world.

I work with kind and generous people at my church. They donate hundreds and even thousands of hours to build community and share kindness and love every day. They fix buildings, stay up late with Middle School students, say yes when invited to lead or do mission work. I’m blown away by the generosity of spirit that I observe and am privileged to witness.

And I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with some of the most amazing people in the world. Kind and generous. Dedicated and driven. They are also so vibrantly committed to excellence that it leaves no room for me to cut a corner. And I love and need that!

Thanks to the people who humbly serve. To the people who don’t settle for less than excellent. I love you. I am inspired by you and the world desperately needs examples like you!!


I shared the story of Demi Lovato in my last sermon. www.pennpres.org

As she endured a difficult time of life battling mental illness and depression she attempted to take her own life. After emerging from that season her response to leaving treatment and retreat was to head to her “sanctuary”. This meant going to Unbreakable Performance in LA to train on the BJJ mats. Those mats were her sanctuary.

I understand her retreat to the mats. I often find sanctuary at Gracie Barra Princeton. In a sense it is my sanctuary. Which is funny because I literally work in a sanctuary.

I work at a Presbyterian church in central New Jersey. It is a great place with great people. And I spend Sunday’s welcoming people to a place to break away from their normal rhythm of life to consider deeper things. Things of life. Things of death. Faith, work, kingdom. Existential reality is negotiated among the sacred and ordinary.

But the room I work in is rarely sanctuary for me. It is my office and my factory floor. Worship services are times when I am thinking about facilitating meaningful things for others and hitting my mark. Trying to remember my sermon or prayer. So I retreat on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings usually. I put in a different robe and I commune with different people. I am not the one people take their lead from but simply a follower. I am mentored and guided by those who have much more skill than I do. It feels safe to me. Yet I am challenged beyond belief.

Sanctuary is rarely safe but it is set apart. It is the space where life finds meaning and I am moved from my comfort zone to a place of discomfort where growth and transformation can happen. I enter with anticipation, expectation and a little bit of fear.

I fear getting hurt. I fear looking stupid. I fear getting dominated. And I fear I’m falling behind. And yet. Sanctuary is the place where fear is transformed into hope and belief. Where fear is moved from the drivers seat to the back seat. When I cross the threshold and become a warrior on the mats I am no longer a victim, I am not a disease, I am not a minority. I am not anything but a partner and a learner. Uki or senior. I learn and I share. I take what I need and I offer what I have.

The result is community and growth. Maturity and connection. This sanctuary has a strange commonality to the one I work in. But it is different too.

It has less history. Less baggage. Less institution. Less ego. More hierarchy. More sweat. More blood. More humility.

I hope Demi Lovato finds what she so desperately needs in her sanctuary. I know I have. Both the one I work in and the one I practice in. I hope every reader does too. If you ever need a guide in BJJ head over to Gracie Barra Princeton or North Princeton. Coach Turtle or Coach Wojtek will show you the way. If you ever need sanctuary come visit me at Pennington Pres, I’ll walk with you and share what I have.

Faces of Gracie Barra Princeton

Hi All. I thought I would do an ongoing series highlighting folks I have come to know through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This journey has been about deep connections physically, mentally, spiritually and relationally. So telling the story of someone like my friend Kyle is a window into why this is a great experience.

Kyle with Prof. Almeida

When I asked Kyle why he started this was his response,

“Age-39. Why I started?- There are SEVERAL reasons why, but if I had to be honest and pick one, it would be for the adversity it brings. I learned something about myself during wrestling in high school, it was that I needed the physical and mental exertion it provided in order to release built up frustrations and aggression that I had deep down inside me. I was always happier and more easy going when I was wrestling. Knowing this about myself and dreaming about being a “jiu jitsu guy” for years led me to the day I met Coach Turtle. What have I benefited? Again, too many things to choose from. Besides the outlet it provides for me, the physical and mental conditioning, confidence in myself, patience and understanding with others, I would say the two biggest for me would be, the friendship and commradery I have now with like minded, goal oriented, quality positive people and the opportunity for my son and I to share this journey ”

Kyle is an original member who goes all the way back to the Schafer’s days. He was one of the first guys I met after signing up. I have always appreciated Kyle for his tenacity and all in mentality with BJJ. He and I have rolled frequently and I have shared stories of him in my blog before. He is tall and thin and wiry. He has a wrestling background and it shows! If I had to give him a style it would be focused strength and self aware. He reminds me of Joao Miyao with his long strength and kinetic fast twitch style. He is a hand full. And I admit that I will often go into my Panda Jitsu smash mode just to be in safe positions with him! Kyle is also the first training partner I had doing No-Gi training. He subbed me 6 times in my first 6 minute roll. Thanks for the lessons.

Kyle is also a dad to two amazing boys and married to a a great woman. I don’t know his wife too well, but she supports her boys doing BJJ, so I know she has to be great!! His son is a leader in class and I love it when he is there. He is insightful and looks to help others learn and keep the standards of the mats!

When asked how BJJ has changed or informed him in life, here is Kyle’s insight-

“I’m different now because I’m happy. I am learning how to be happy and content with who I am and what I have instead of wishing and wanting all the time. I guess I have gained perspective. I lose that easily and jiu jitsu helps keep me centered.”

If that doesn’t get you off the couch and sign up at GB Princeton or North Princeton, you need to read it again!!

Kyle is one of the guys who has made GB Princeton feel like home to me. He is humble and hard working. I think about the blessing that BJJ is because I am not sure how I would have ever met Kyle without the community that GB Princeton has become.

Come on out to Gracie Barra Princeton and get to know someone great! Work hard alongside of someone and you will find yourself trusting them and respecting them. See you on the mats.

I’m Going to be Sore Anyway- Health and Jiu Jitsu

I Choose Soreness!!!

My hands are sore everyday. I am trying hard to teach or train at least 4 days a week at Gracie Barra Princeton and the soreness used to limit my training. Basically every joint in my body is sore…everyday. I have inflammation and hives that make life uncomfortable. That is why the concept of being comfortable being uncomfortable has been so life changing for me. I have an autoimmune disease that has a crapload of daily side effects. This is my reality. Someone asked me how I felt about it and my only honest answer is that it sucks. It sucks. It is aggravating and painful and discouraging. And there are many ways to deal with this reality. I could drink. I could eat. I could complain. I could take too much Advil. I could feel sorry for myself. Well, I’ve done all of these and none of them made me feel any better. So, I tried Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And it is working for me.

Hives on the hand…

I am still sore every day and I still get a lot of the same emotions. But, I also have discovered a lot of what BJJ offers. Community, fitness, empowerment, humility and something that I will take the rest of my life to learn proficiently.

I used to choose not to go to class if I was sore. Now I go. Because guess what?!? I’m going to be sore anyway. I might as well get sore doing something I love!! I am going to be sore- so I’m doing it my way. I get to choose soreness. I don’t have soreness put upon me by the weakness of my body or by some stupid disease.

I choose soreness!!!! It’s mine. And I’ve earned it. Gratitude- the powerful gift God has given me. Thank you BJJ for empowering me to make this choice.

Trust- it’s what it takes to grow.

I experienced a threshold in Jiu Jitsu last week. I was promoted to blue belt. It was an emotional experience for me. A friend who practices Jiu Jitsu congratulated me and remembered wondering to himself as he was promoted, “I’m a grown man. Why does this mean so much?” I totally understood what he was saying. It didn’t change me magically into a better Jiu Jitsu player, but it represented 14 months of hard work, mental and physical challenges, overcoming time constraints, injuries and wholehearted support and encouragement from my family.

Gratitude has been a theme for me as I have started on this BJJ journey. I felt that again during the promotion. It was a marker along the way that I can look at and remember this is a real experience that is transforming me. I am a stronger individual for doing this sport. And that strength has made me a better friend, a better husband, a better dad, a better pastor, and a better addition to the groups I’m a part of. For that I am grateful.

I am also grateful for Gracie Barra Princeton. Michael Leonardi is an entrepreneur who has been captivated by the social power of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He is a purple belt under Professor Ricardo Almeida and the director of GB Princeton and now GB North Princeton.

Mike has taken risks to open these schools and worked hard to influence hundreds of people’s lives. And he is still not afraid to leverage his position to speak out against dangerous things in our society. I have heard him champion racial equality, respect for all and passionately call for men in our culture to stand up and partner with our sisters to make the world a safe and better place. #notonmywatch

Trust is a powerful thing. I am not naturally good at trust. I have a complex history with trust and I don’t go gently into it. That being said, I am more capable of trust today than I was before I started practicing BJJ. I trust myself more because I have risen to a challenge. BJJ is hard. And I have not given into the temptation to quit when it has gotten tough. It takes time and it takes will. It takes a tolerance for pain. It also takes having a sober judgment of who I am. How fit I am and how tall the mountain I have to climb is.

My growing self trust has positively influenced my ability to trust others. I trust my coaches as they have invested hundreds of hours into my growth as a Jiu Jitsu practitioner. And I trust my training partners. That’s not to say they are perfect, just as I am not a perfect training partner. Just last week my toughest partner and I rolled together in live training. I was exhausted and he could tell. So he told me to just use technique to escape or challenge the position I was in. We rolled for 6 minutes this way and it was really beneficial to my game. It took restraint, empathy, and humility on his part. He could have easily crushed me. But he didn’t. He nurtured my Jiu Jitsu game. And we both grew. I am so grateful to training partners like this. And I am grateful for a culture that facilitates humble training.

Constant challenge and a consistent and earnest response to it, creates character and culture. I am fully immersed in this now as a way of life. It flows over into all the facets of my life.

My faith has grown as I have discovered new ways to trust. I understand the flat sides of my faith and areas when I have been reluctant to surrender to God and to others. Now I practice surrender 2-4 times a week and I’m getting better. I think about what it means to say I tap. I tap to my own selfish will. I tap to my own desires for comfort. I tap to the things that do not lend to my or others flourishing.

In the space that this surrender creates is the room for growth.

And gratitude. And loyalty. And character. And humility. And grace.

Blue belt. Simple. Yet significant!!