Lapsed Lutheran

I was raised in a deeply faithful family of Lutherans. In my parent’s generation there were five ordained Lutheran pastors — three on my mom’s side (her younger sister Karen, younger brother Kemp and her twin sister’s husband, Byron) and two on my dad’s side (my dad David and and his older brother Richard). My maternal grandmother Ruth was also the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, Franz Oscar Whilhelm Gustafson. My maternal grandfather, Carl Segerhammar, was ordained in 1932 having graduated from Augustana Seminary in Rock Island, Illinois. His father Aaron Segerhammar also graduated from Augustana and was ordained in 1900. Carl was elected president of the California Conference of the Augustana Lutheran Church (the Swedish strain of Lutherans) in 1950 and when Lutheran churches in the United states started consolidating he was elected president of the Pacific Southwest Synod of the Lutheran Church in America in 1963, and continued as the bishop of the synod until his retirement in 1975. He continued to serve as an associate pastor for 20 more years. From the time I was born, I recall having a strong and deep affection for Seger, and he was deeply influential in my life. I literally cut my teeth on the cross he wore around his neck, and his sermon at my wedding to Anna was one of the most powerful sermons he ever preached.

For most of my life, well into adulthood, I attended churches where either my father or my uncle Kemp was my pastor. In my mid 40s my wife Anna and our two sons moved to the Quad Cities, and for the first time we joined a church where the pastor was not a relative. (To keep our record clean, I’ve considered adopting into our family as an honorary uncle, Peter Marty, the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran church in Davenport.) All of this is to say, I am not a stranger to religious practice.

But I am no longer drawn to that practice on a weekly basis. I have struggled to maintain a strong connection with the church since moving back to the Bay Area in 2009. We had been active in our church in the Quad Cities, but we did not find a church here in Oakland where we felt connected. I don’t think it was because the churches here are not worth connecting with, but there was something troubling about the way many people in the broader church (I’m using “church” in a global Christian sense, encompassing all Christian churches, all Christian denominations) were responding to the newly elected president, Barack Obama. There was a strong current of racism, of homophobia, and of anti-Muslim sentiment sounding in the “evangelical Christian” voices in the nation. I resisted identifying as a Christian, especially as the main-stream media seemed to define Christianity by its most extreme fundamentalist adherents.

Christian fundamentalism has no relation with the kind of Christianity in which I was raised. The pastors and families who nurtured my faith as a child were social justice practitioners, not biblical literalists. We believe in loving all, and that all people on the earth are children of a loving God. We were not proselytizing Christians, who felt called to convert others to the faith. We were called to live and be guided by our own faith: to serve others; to care for the planet; to walk humbly; and to seek and do justice. As my grandfather Segerhammar used to say, “We are not called to be God’s debaters, we are called to be God’s witnesses.”

When I hear men like Franklin Graham, or Jerry Falwell, Jr., and other far right extremist fundamentalists talk about women being subservient to men, that being gay is a sin, or supporting a president who wishes to ban Muslim people from entering our country, I am disgusted. When I hear of priests who sexually abuse young people in their parishes, or when I read about the Phelps family from Kansas protesting at veterans’ funerals and holding up signs that say “God hates fags,” I am disgusted. None of these things are evangelical or Christian. But they claim that title, unchallenged by the main stream media.

At work the other day we were discussing an upcoming trip to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. (A generous donor is providing funds to send all of us for a three day visit.) Our discussion centered on a book that some of us are reading, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson (the founder of The Equal Justice Initiative.) One of my colleagues said something like, “Organized religion is a scam. It’s just a business, all about getting money.”

I grimaced when I heard that comment. Not that I disagreed with her entirely. Consider Joel Osteen, the pastor of a mega church in Texas who closed the church’s doors to the community when they were assaulted by epic rains and flooding. He’s a multimillionaire with a mega mansion home, and his church is a giant structure that could have housed hundreds of neighbors who had been flooded out of their homes. But Osteen was too selfish to offer his building as a sanctuary for those in need. If Osteen is your image of Christianity, I can understand why you would share my colleague’s opinion. But there is just no nuance in that view.

I realize that by choosing the path I have taken, to allow myself to become a lapsed Lutheran, I am doing nothing to offer a counter narrative to the perception my co-worker shared. And yet I find myself ever more distant from the faith practice in which I was raised and where my humanity was nurtured. We attend church occasionally. There’s a Lutheran congregation in San Francisco, St. Mark’s, that is vibrant, and reminiscent of churches we attended where my uncle Kemp was pastor. Our son Nate and his wife Katherine were married there, and we head that way for Christmas and Easter. On the occasional Sunday morning I sometimes think about getting in the car and heading to St. Mark’s. But I struggle with the competing impulses: to seek solace and refuge in a community of believers; or to shun that experience because I don’t want to accept the label that puts me in the company of fundamentalist extremists.

I get a newsletter from St. Mark’s in my email inbox every week, and it keeps this internal struggle ever present. We’ll see…

21 October 2018, 16:05 — Mark — culture politics


Odd Dream

I woke up this morning while dreaming. This has been happening more frequently lately, and for the most part I’m enjoying these episodes. Sometimes, though, there’s something strange and troubling in those dreams.

Today as I was waking I was dreaming that I was in line to pay for coffee at a local Peet’s. The cashier smiled at me and called me by my full name before I had even handed her a credit card or used my phone to pay with Apple Pay. Before I could say anything, she smiled and said, “You’re probably wonderi;g how I know your name. Well, Peet’s has installed a device that scans your wallet and devices for anything that has an NFC chip and it finds your name and puts it on my screen. I hope this doesn’t creep you out.”

I’m not sure this is possible with NFC (now I feel like I need to do some research) but it did creep me out a little. I have no idea how the seeds of these dreams take root, but it felt like I was getting a nocturnal warning about the need to be vigilant about privacy.

20 October 2018, 11:23 — Mark — coffee encounter


Litany for America

I saw this litany on Twitter today. It was written by David Rothkopf a few days ago, when Republicans confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. He offers a hopeful view with a call to action.

What do you do when your country breaks your heart? When not once but repeatedly it fails to live up to the aspirations of even those citizens with the most modest of aspirations for it? When the ideals of its founders are left to yellow and be forgotten in archives and museums?

Read the full thread

Follow Mr. Rothkopf on Twitter.

9 October 2018, 09:12 — Mark — politics culture


Men need to wake up.

My wife shared this with me yesterday:

Guys ask why women are so pissed off. Even guys with wives and daughters. Jackson Katz, a prominent social researcher, illustrates why. He’s done it with hundreds of audiences:

“I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other.

Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter. Occasionally, a young a guy will raise his hand and say, ‘I stay out of prison.’ This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’

Then I ask the women the same question. What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine.

Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.”

― Jackson Katz, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help

28 September 2018, 14:46 — Mark —


Back to the Web

Twitter killed the API for third party applications. Since I was a happy user of Tweetbot, which was crippled by that change, I’ve stopped spending much time reading my Twitter feed. One of the main benefits that I’m enjoying is spending some of that saved time scanning my Instagram timeline and reading some of the blogs I used to visit. And I find that spending less time on Twitter just makes me feel happier. Thanks, @jack.

21 August 2018, 07:58 — Mark — news


Register to Vote

I’ve added a voter registration button to the navigation on the site. If you aren’t registered or know someone who hasn’t registered this button will get you started. There is no more significant responsibility as a citizen of the United States. Voting is the way we can assure that our country remains a democracy.

Our current president is working overtime to make sure that you don’t vote. He can only maintain power by denying the vote to a majority of Americans. His base of supporters is small, so he is depending on voter suppression of the majority to continue with his agenda of recreating a Russian style oligarchy here in the United States.

Share a link to this site with anyone who has not registered.

30 June 2018, 22:43 — Mark —


How Democrats Can Win Elections.

Bruce Bartlett is a former advisor to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He left the Republican Party in 2009. He has been critical of the current Republican administration (and was also critical of George W. Bush’s administration). He recently posted on Twitter a list of 25 ideas that could be winning issues for the Democrats in coming elections. The suggestions below are linked to polls that show a majority of Americans favor the policy.

Not only are these issues extremely popular, addressing these issues will lead to a healthy economy, and restore American democracy.

  1. End gerrymandering.
  2. Raise taxes on the wealthy.
  3. Limit campaign spending.
  4. Constitutional amendment to outlaw Citizens United decision.
  5. Make voting easier with automatic registration and early voting.
  6. Support gun control.
  7. Protect the environment & take concrete actions against global warming.
  8. Allow felons to vote if they have served their full sentence.
  9. End or restrict payday lending.
  10. Spend more money on public works.
  11. Support DACA.
  12. Fix student debt problem.
  13. Prioritize production of alternative energy such as solar over fossil fuels such as coal.
  14. Fight corruption by the president, Congress and government officials.
  15. Oppose foreign government interference in US elections.
  16. Force presidents to release their tax returns.
  17. Guaranteed government job for all who want one.
  18. Increase regulation of tech companies & social media to protect privacy.
  19. Raise pay for teachers.
  20. Legalize marijuana.
  21. Oppose tariffs & trade protectionism.
  22. Support paid family & medical leaver for workers.
  23. Support labor unions. (To this idea, I’d add: raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.)
  24. Support prison reform.
  25. Single-payer health insurance for all.

17 June 2018, 22:54 — Mark — politics culture


NRATV Propaganda

I watched today as millions of young people took to the streets across the nation, and stood up to speak truth to power. In Washington, students from Parkland, Florida, and elsewhere called on adults in the nation to address the problem of gun violence in the country. Their words were more powerful than the guns they hope to silence. If you have a chance, listen to Emma Gonzalez’ speech (including the 6 minutes and 20 seconds of silence).

I recognize power of free speech as a core value in our society. I embrace our constitutional rights, including the first amendment right to freedom of expression, and clearly, that right extends to the National Rifle Association. I disagree vehemently with the positions of the NRA, but I understand their right to speak. I also believe I am free to oppose the NRA by exercising my first amendment rights.

When a host of NRATV said that no one would know the names of the teenagers from Parkland if it weren’t for the fact that their classmates were shot, he was telling an ugly truth. Clearly he has a first amendment right to speak the truth as he understands it. Here, from Cleve Wootson at the Washington Post:

The latest attack came from Colion Noir, a host on NRATV who took to the airwaves on the eve of the Parkland teens-led March on Washington, telling them: “No one would know your names” if a student gunman hadn’t stormed into their school and killed three staff members and 14 students.
Washington Post

The NRA wants to put assault weapons in the hands of anyone who wants one. Gun sales and profits are their main objective. Public safety, the safety of children in our schools, the lives of worshippers in churches, of dancers in a nightclub, or those of music fans attending concerts do not concern the NRA. They are advocates for unrestricted access to instruments of murder.

The NRA should be free to stand in the public square yell their ugly ideas as loud as they can — but let them build their own distribution platform. The first amendment expresses no requirement that companies like Apple, Amazon, Google (YouTube), etc. make their platforms available to the NRA to amplify their vile, dangerous propaganda.

Join me in writing to these companies (I try to send something at least once a week) to encourage them to remove NRATV from their platforms.


Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

24 March 2018, 14:50 — Mark — politics culture


Goodbye, Facebook

Truthfully, I had been considering closing my Facebook account long before the recent news about Facebook’s attempt to hide their contribution of millions of user profiles to Cambridge Analytica, Steve Bannon, and the Trump campaign. I had grown weary of the algorithmic feed and the weird, dislocating user experience. I enjoy seeing photos of friends and vicariously enjoying their joys, or sometimes sharing a moment of grief, but the engineers and data scientists at Facebook have tweaked the feed in ways that made me hate the way things worked.

So last night I posted a note reflecting on my decision to delete my account:

I Googled and found the hidden link that one clicks to delete (and not just deactivate) my account. Facebook really tries to convince you not to delete (and throws a Captcha in the flow just to make it a little extra annoying), but I plunged ahead and deleted:

They make you wait 14 days before they actually delete your account, and they make sure you know that you can login anytime to cancel the deletion.

I’m sad to lose the connection with friends, but it feels good to be out. I’m aware the fact that Facebook still has ways of collecting data on me, and that advertisers, politicians, and others have already received my data from Facebook (and other web platforms). I know this is a symbolic gesture, but maybe it will convince one or two others to follow suit. And if there are enough of us who delete accounts, maybe something will change and the platform will become a little safer for those who keep their accounts.

Stay in touch by visiting me here on BackToOakland, or follow me on Twitter: @mdh

21 March 2018, 23:51 — Mark — news culture


Black Panther

The first tweet I noticed on my Twitter feed this morning was from W. Kamau Bell

#BlackPanther is a Rorschach test. It’s easy to say that you loved it. But when you ask people why they loved it you may end up thinking to yourself, “WERE WE EVEN WATCHING THE SAME MOVIE???”

I haven’t stopped thinking about Black Panther since seeing it on Monday. And after reading W. Kamau Bell’s tweet I decided I need to join the conversation.

First, just to get this out of the way — Marvel Studio movies are not a genre that particularly appeal to me. I haven’t seen any other films in this collection except the first IronMan movie, and while I didn’t especially dislike that film, it didn’t resonate with me in the way Black Panther did. As an entertainment, Ryan Coogler’s film is masterful. The visual world he creates is stunning. There’s enough action to satisfy the expectations of the genre, but little of the violence is especially gratuitous. The cast is exceptional, and as a former actor I stand in awe of their work. But the strength of the film goes beyond entertainment.

For me, the connection to Oakland and the social justice movement first launched in the 60s by the Black Panthers of Merritt College was at the core of what this film is about. I don’t know much about Ryan Coogler except what I’ve seen in his films and the fact that he was born in Oakland and grew up in the east bay. He’s too young to have experienced to formation of the Black Panthers first hand, but his film is a reimagining of their story. A celebration of blackness and the nobility of the people first to emerge from the cradle of civilization.

By bookending the film with scenes in Oakland, Coogler’s story speaks to the experience of Black America and to the neutralization of black power by a white society that violently ripped apart black nations for the purpose of enslavement. Black Panther the film riffs on the core of the Black Panther movement in Oakland. The Panthers were the vanguard of the “Black is Beautiful” movement. Their breakfast programs, and the armed presence of Black Panther foot solders who attempted to confront police violence against the black community was a movement that also echoes in the Black Lives Matter movement, and in DeRay McKesson’s signature, I love my blackness and yours. I saw this film as a reflection of the ascendence of black wholeness in a society that has continuously and systematically marginalized black culture and minimized black experience.

Where the film really excels for me is in the treatment of Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger. His ultimate motivations, like his father’s, were noble, and challenged the Wakandan isolationism. Jordan navigates the Killmonger role, avoiding the pitfall of flattening him into a cutout villain, instead turning him into a sympathetic influence, forcing the Wakandans to re-think their world view. Ultimately it’s his influence, and that of his father’s life in Oakland, that drives the Wakandan echo of the Oakland Panthers in the film’s denouement.

Was that the movie you saw? Ping me on twitter if you have a response. @mdh.

20 February 2018, 12:55 — Mark — culture art


In-N-Out Conversation

Last night Anna and I went to see The Darkest Hour in Alameda. We had skipped having dinner before the show and on our way home Anna said she needed a bite. We would be passing the In-N-Out near the end of the Webster Tube on our way home and it had been a really long time since either of us had indulged in an Animal Style burger.

“Want to stop at In-N-Out?”

The temptation was more than I could resist.

“Sure,” I said.

We pulled in, parked, ordered two burgers and an order of fries to share, then sat down to wait. It was very busy for 9:00 pm.

“It looks like Santa’s workshop the way they’re scurrying around back there,” said the guy sitting next to me. “I hear the daughter of the founders is a billionaire.”

I had an inkling that the family-owned chain was indeed quite a profit machine, and I assumed he was right.

“They must sell thousands of burgers a day in here,” he said. “Every day. It’s always busy like this. From the first day they opened.”

We nodded together and in my head I tried to calculate the number of burgers they could process per hour, per day, and per month.

“You know 10% of the people in this country control over half the money.”

We chatted a bit about the injustice of the recently passed tax bill, and he was pretty upset that most of the benefit went to people who already had more money than they need. Then we hit on rent. He told me that he lives in a house in Alameda that his parents built decades ago for $8,000.

“It’s worth hundreds of times what they paid for it.”

He was glad to have it, because rents have gotten so high. A friend of his son pays nearly $4000 a month for a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco.

“I used to live in San Francisco, and back in the 1970s I paid $150 for a studio apartment on Union Street. It was tiny, but it had a fireplace.”

We were on a roll, sharing stories of the good old days as we old guys like to do while waiting for burgers, when a kid behind the counter called “55!”

“That’s me,” he said, as he got up and grabbed his bag. “Nice talking to you.”

And he was off.

4 February 2018, 09:29 — Mark — encounter community


Small Town Adams Point

When I got on the NL bus this morning for the morning ride to work, the driver, a jovial friend who normally gives me a hearty handshake, fist bump, or hug when I board, greeted me with “Traitor! I saw you getting into a casual carpool yesterday.” His grin betrayed him, and he did grab my hand and gave it a little pat, but it made me think.

The people who gather each morning between 7:45 and a little past 8:00 each morning are a community not unlike the neighbors who might gather at a corner in any small town in America. There are people who live in my building with whom I like to engage in conversation. Most mornings I hop on the bus but some days I grab a ride in the casual carpool.

It’s not unusual to get a ride with the same carpool driver on multiple days. I’ve ridden several times with a woman who works as a counselor at a county jail in the west bay. She’s also an aspiring standup comic, and riding with her is always fun. The first time she picked me up she said, “It’s two dollars for older white guys.” I started reaching in my pocket before she chuckled, “Nah, I’m kidding.” The next time she picked me up, I was heading for the back seat but she snapped at the woman getting into the front seat, “No, no — you get in back. Don’t you see this tall man behind me? He needs more leg room.” Then she turned to me and said, “You sit up front, honey — I know you like my act.”

Once we arrive in San Francisco we all scurry off to our offices and occupations, but when we’re connecting in Adams Point, in our little corner of Oakland, we are friends.

26 January 2018, 19:18 — Mark — encounter community


I didn’t say what you think I said

Several years ago I was at my brother’s house helping clear away some branches and debris that had fallen in his backyard during a storm. My brother and I were cutting up larger branches and passing them to our sons to drag to the back of the yard to be burned. It was kind of a manly bonding experience, and the young boys were enjoying working and getting a little sweaty and dirty. At one point, as he was grabbing an armload of twigs, swept up in the roughness of the moment, my 8-year-old nephew asked, “What do we do with this shit?”

Surprised (because this was an uncharacteristic vocabulary for the little guy) I said, “What did you say?”

“I didn’t say what you think I said,” he blurted out.

This story always amuses me because it illustrates the working of a child’s mind.

What doesn’t amuse me is hearing our President (an unapologetic racist) use the same childish reasoning when denying coarse and racist comments made about Haiti and Africa. Nor am I amused by the equally childish forgetfulness of senators Cotton and Perdue, who are afraid to confront the President’s racism — or perhaps, what’s more likely, they are racists, too. We live in a country that was once a world leader, a country that claims to hold a lamp for those seeking refuge from tyranny, injustice, and discrimination. When our so-called leaders engage in behavior that is typical of 8 year olds, it’s time to re-examine our role in the world. And it’s time for new leaders.

14 January 2018, 09:38 — Mark —


Guilty is as Guilty Does

When there is concern that a public official may have done something illegal or inappropriate, an innocent official will welcome a thorough and independent investigation. A smart yet guilty official might try to appear innocent by inviting an investigation, knowing that even the appearance of guilt is politically untenable. Only a guilty official would seek to thwart or obstruct an investigation.

9 May 2017, 23:37 — Mark — culture politics


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