A Shot of Much Needed Leadership Inspiration


You may not have noticed, but I went dark for a few weeks. I fell into a deep funk after the election. Once the outrage subsided I found my motivation at a very low ebb. I gave myself permission to retreat. I am coming out it now and one of the contributing factors was witnessing my friend Mai Vang’s swearing in to the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Mai invited her family and friends to attend and about 100 people filled the boardroom to support her on this momentous occasion. Four people actually shared in administering the oath: her high school teacher and mentor, a parent from the district who inspires her, a Burbank High School student, and an elder from her Hmong community.

It was so moving to hear Mai repeat the oath to defend the US constitution and the constitution of the State of California. Here was evidence that our democracy can still function beautifully.

Mai speaking after taking the oath flanked by her grandparents.

This is Mai’s story. Her family was part of the wave of immigrants from Laos that came to the US after the Vietnam War. Mai is the oldest of 16 children and she worked hard to learn English while retaining the Hmong language to be able to respect her elders as that culture teaches. At the same time she didn’t want to remain in poverty, so she studied hard and accepted help from Ms. Crowder who helped to coach her to earn the grades to get into college and a Buck Fellowship. Mai went on to University of San Francisco and then UCLA to earn two master’s degrees. She could be earning larger salaries working in public health. She chose to return to Sacramento to organize her community. She is staff to a Sacramento City Councilmember and now a member of the school board representing a part of the school district that is challenged by low income and fewer opportunities.

As she took the oath my eyes teared up. Here is proof that if you work hard and participate in our democracy you can take a seat at the table. I only wish there were more Mai’s from her community running for office. More young people from all walks of life stepping up to leadership.

Rob Bell in Episode 122 of his RobCast “We need to talk about politics…” (October 16, 2016) He explains why politics needs to reclaimed as a good thing. The origin of the word of politics Greek is “politicos” and means citizens. It is essentially a good word and determines how we arrange our common life together. There is something sacred and holy about our shared life together. As a poli-sci nerd I don’t need to be convinced by Rob Bell that policy is also important.

We have to pay attention to actual policy to cut through the clouds of opinion in a post-truth world. We need to talk about the nuts and bolts of how things get done.

If you don’t step up, people and corporations who do not care about our common good take advantage of your cynicism or disaffection. This is OUR common good. Be part of the solution not part of the problem. But don’t kid yourself into thinking that doing nothing is anything other than being part of the problem.

Mai Vang is willing to commit a large amount of time to learn the issues facing the Sacramento City Unified School District and help to adopt policies that result in better outcomes for all students. I am digging into local housing policy to find ways to dramatically reduce people experiencing homelessness.

What are you willing to do?




A Dose of Much Needed Hope

Rob Bell's Everything is Spiritual
Rob Bell’s special white board for Everything is Spiritual with Rob seated for after performance Q&A.

You all lived through this past November and December (2015), so I do not need to tell you that a bunch of shit was going down. Between mass shootings, everyday violence against poor and colored people, and hate toward Muslims and refugees, it was a bleak holiday season.

I bought the tickets to Everything is Spiritual a performance by Rob Bell months earlier, so the timing was serendipitous.

If you are not familiar with Rob Bell’s work. He was a pastor of a postmodern church in Michigan breaking all kinds of new ground in how he communicated the gospel, when he started down a different path. At first it seemed like he was going on a parallel path, but his theology eventually broke from the Evangelical mainstream and for some fundamentalist Christians he is a heretic. Ultimately, his writing books like Love Wins led him to quit his pastoral job to move to Laguna Beach and focus on creating stuff. He is also part of the Oprah entourage, appearing on Super Soul Sunday on OWN.

I appreciate Rob Bell’s blog and podcast. I had seen an earlier version of Everything is Spiritual on YouTube, so when I read that he was taping it one evening in a Santa Monica theater, I thought it would make a fun adventure for my daughter and me.

The taping will be made into a movie within a few months so please wait and watch the better quality, more advanced-in-his-thinking version when it comes out. I will give you a sneak peek.

Rob Bell, like great comedians, has a unique way of seeing the world and is very smart and articulate. He created this presentation to help people make sense of our world. He does not answer all questions (even with the concluding Q&A); instead, he presents a framework for continuing the exploration.

He begins at the beginning of the universe an estimated 13.8 billion years ago when a big bang set off a creation process that resulted in the world as we know it. If you stand at this beginning point and look forward you begin to see that creation is moving toward greater complexity, depth and unity. However, if you look at the creation from today and look backward, you may see the world as fundamentalists do, that is, the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Rob Bell’s presentation gave me a much needed shot of hope because it reminded me that God’s love is pulling the whole of creation forward. S/he invites us to join in the creation. We have to ignore the “resistance” and persist in joyful creation: An epiphany* for the New Year.

*Some Christians celebrate the Epiphany on January 6 when tradition says the three wise men came to worship baby Jesus.