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Pacific School of Religion Designated as Ashoka U Changemaker Campus

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Orange tree in a circle.Pacific School of Religion has been designated as a Changemaker Campus by Ashoka U for being a leader in social innovation education. Pacific School of Religion will join the Changemaker Campus Network—a dynamic, global network of students, faculty, and fellows who share inspiration, connections and support.

Since 2008, around 40 colleges and universities from around the world have become Changemaker Campuses including Brown University, Duke University, Dublin City University, and the University of Maryland.

Pacific School of Religion (PSR) is a progressive, multidenominational seminary and center for social justice located in Berkeley, California.  Drawing on the strength of wisdom traditions, the prophetic voice of social movements, and Bay Area innovation, PSR prepares a diverse cadre of spiritually rooted leaders with the skills to envision and bring about a more just and compassionate world.

Borders and Identity

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and immigration rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas (center) recently spoke at our Borders and Identity conference.

“We are delighted to become the first seminary to be designated a Changemaker Campus by Ashoka U,” said David Vásquez-Levy, President of PSR.  “The rigorous selection process has itself already strengthened our ability to make our education more of a world-changing experience for our students, and brought us into partnerships with leading educational institutions around the world.  This process has also affirmed the critical contribution our spiritually rooted leadership formation can offer the network and the world, by preparing leaders with the capacity to reframe the issues of our day, sustain themselves and their communities, and effectively bring about meaningful change.”

For more than 150 years, Pacific School of Religion has been committed to the goal of social transformation. PSR students and faculty members have been David giving a speech at a table with three people watching.leaders in many movements for social change, from organizing against Japanese American internment camps, to participating in the civil rights movement, to taking a moral stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline. PSR founded the first center for the study of LGBTQ issues in religion at a seminary in 2000 and recently launched the Ignite Institute, which is a hub for innovation at the intersection of spirituality and social justice.

Three conference attendees smiling for a group photoEducation at PSR prepares students to make deep systems and framework change in the world.  This is because the big questions of the meaning of existence – what has ultimate value, what gives our lives meaning, and how we choose to move in the world – is the fundamental underpinning of work, engagement with national policies, and our daily lives.

PSR students are trained to be innovative social entrepreneurs and intra-preneurs – some are creating new organizations and scholarship in the world that focuses on social justice, and some are learning the skills to lead change within the 2000-year-old institution of the church, to support thriving for all.

Two women holding up immigration justice signs.According to the Ashoka U selection report:  “PSR is at the forefront of redefining the seminary experience in the 21st century and shaping the intersection of religion and social innovation. Realizing the importance of religion and spirituality in shaping public life, PSR views itself in a powerful role to empower its community to drive systems and framework change.”

Ashoka U catalyzes social innovation and changemaking in higher education through a global network of entrepreneurial students, faculty and community leaders. Building on Ashoka’s vision for a world where “Everyone is a Changemaker,” Ashoka U takes an institutional change approach to ultimately impact the education of millions of students. Ashoka U collaborates with colleges and universities to break down barriers to institutional change and foster a campus-wide culture of social innovation.

Asleep in a Prison: Reflections on Borders and Identity

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“Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison of all places?”

~Rumi

The day after attending Pacific School of Religion’s “Borders and Identity” 2017 Earl and Boswell lectures on March 17th in Berkeley, I swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco. The island and its infamous prison looked desolate and lonely surrounded by an iron sea and a gray sky. I shivered in my bathing suit on the deck of the boat that was approaching the island and stared wide-eyed at the 58-degree water I would have to dive into soon. Doubt crept into me like the cold – I was not sure I would make it across.

When it comes to immigration, America has confined itself in a prison. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas gave the keynote lecture the evening of March 17th. He is the founder and CEO of Define American, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing the stories of immigrants in order to elevate the conversation around immigration.

Vargas distributed a fact sheet to his audience to counter the stereotypes and misinformation circulating about immigrants. Do you think immigration is tied to higher crime rates? Actually, higher immigration is associated with lower violent crime rates. Between 1990 and 2013, the immigrant population increased from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and during the same period of time, violent crime declined 48 percent. Only 1.6% of immigrant males 18-39 years old are incarcerated, compared to 3.3% of native-born males.

Donald Trump’s border wall would complete the prison America has chosen to fall asleep in. Forty percent of undocumented immigrants were visa holders, which means they entered the country legally, and Asians are the fastest growing group of undocumented immigrants. A border wall would be ineffective.

Once we arrived at Alcatraz Island, I dove off the boat into water that took my breath away. I gasped and started swimming away from the prison and towards San Francisco to warm myself up. After a few minutes, I had settled into my pace and enjoyed the feeling of the cold water. At one point, I stopped swimming to appreciate the panoramic view of San Francisco. God’s world is so big when you’re looking at it from the middle of the ocean – it’s full of homes, bridges, and sky.

“Legality is a power construct,” Vargas said during his address. Law can be an instrument of oppression – Jim Crow laws and the Holocaust are obvious examples. Oppressive laws make our world smaller, they make our world a prison when there is actually space at the table for all. When we do away with borders of power, we find ourselves in a world of abundance and have to make do with more and not less because we value other human beings.

“No human being is illegal,” Vargas said, quoting Elie Wiesel, who gave the Earl Lecture at Pacific School of Religion in 1981.

Photo of Jose Antonio Vargas © Bruce Cook 2017

During the last half of my Alcatraz swim, I felt like I had crossed a border and was now in alien territory. The temperature suddenly dropped and the water was thick with current that pushed against me. I picked up my pace to fight against it, but I was also afraid. The dark water suddenly felt abyssal to me, like it could swallow me whole.

A kayaker paddled over to me. “The current changed! Swim that way,” he said, pointing to the right where the entrance to the Aquatic Park, the finish line, was. His piercing blue eyes softened with concern. “Are you okay? Are you cold?”

I gave the kayaker a thumbs-up. “I’m okay.” And I pushed on through the current despite my fear and confusion.

Undocumented immigrants often live in a state of constant fear of deportation. Vargas used to be a journalist for the Washington Post and he described a time when he had to tell his boss and ally about his undocumented status. The coworker exclaimed, “I understand you 100 times better now!” Vargas constantly felt paranoid and lived in fear that someone would discover his secret.

In 2011, Vargas decided that he was tired of running and tired of the constant fear. He wrote an essay for the New York Times in which he “comes out” as an undocumented immigrant.

“I realized that coming out as undocumented was central to resistance,” Vargas said during his lecture. Vargas was invited to Donald Trump’s first address to Congress and his lawyers suggested that he lay low and not go because Trump could deport him. Vargas went against that advice and showed for Trump’s speech because “undocumented immigrants all over the country show up for work everyday despite the risk of deportation.”

I attended the “Where Identity Borders Meet Immigration Borders: Queer and Immigrant Youth” session at the conference. In that session, a young transgender, undocumented woman described how her mother was deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement when she was in elementary school. She ran out of her school crying tears of relief when her mother came back to her a few weeks later.

The story reminded me of my friend from college who told me his father was deported to Mexico when he was a child. He hasn’t seen his father since.

“How do you find the courage to do this?” a woman asked Vargas after his address.

I scanned the shoreline of Aquatic Park, not sure where exactly to go. The blue-eyed kayaker urged me on. “Go, go!” I hesitated until I saw familiar faces in the crowd on the shore. I smiled and sprinted to the finish, where I was greeted and warmed by my community. They wrapped me in a towel, gave me hugs, and placed a cup of hot tea in my hands. My friend who did the swim with me arrived shortly after I did. Our community was complete.

Jose Antonio Vargas’ response to the woman’s question about courage was: “I am the product of the generosity of other people. When I find gratitude for those people, I find purpose and strength.”

It will take courage for America to leave the prison it has become too comfortable in, and America will find that courage when it finds gratitude for the contributions of immigrants, who have played a fundamental role in shaping this country into what it is today. This gratitude is the essence of community, and a true community has no borders.

*Originally published in Tikkun Daily

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Paige Foreman is a Masters in Social Transformation student at the Pacific School of Religion. At seminary, she’s exploring the intersection between interfaith work, social justice activism, and the arts. In her spare time, Paige writes novels for children and teens, composes music, and trains for swimming across the English Channel.

Creating Communities of Sanctuary for All

By | A World on the Move, Borders and Identity: Sanctuary Rally, Igniting Change, Main News, Queering Faith | No Comments

Saturday, March 18, 3:00 PM 

Rally at MLK Civic Center Park 

2151 MLK Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

Join faith leaders and activists as we urge our elected officials to honor sanctuary for all people, regardless of immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion.

Speakers Include:

  • Jesse Arreguin, Mayor, City of Berkeley
  • Rev. John Fife, Co-founder of the Sanctuary movement
  • Rev. James Lawson, Jr., Civil Rights Leader
  • Rev. Phillip Lawson, Civil Rights Leader
  • Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and immigration activist
  • Rev. Dr. David Vásquez-Levy, President, Pacific School of Religion

RSVP on Facebook


In his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated the profound spiritual role that marches, protests, sit-ins, etc. play in movements for social change, saying “[Through direct action,] we…bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with…injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion, before it can be healed.”

To conclude our time together, we will explore what we come to know and understand about Borders and Identities in and through participation in direct social action, and how we might join in exposing underlying tensions and systems of injustice so that they might be transformed. As we put hands, feet, and heart to our prayers in the hopes of directly impacting our local and national communities, we affirm that this, too, is what theology and ministry looks like.

At Borders and Identity conference, trailblazing activists to reflect on first 100 days of Trump’s presidency

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Borders and Identity, the 2017 Earl and Boswell Lectures, will feature reflections from trailblazing social justice activists and organizers. Pacific School of Religion and our Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion are honored to welcome Rev. John Fife, Rev. Phillip Lawson, Dolores Huerta, and Rev. James Lawson, Jr.  Read More

Registration now open for our 2017 Earl and Boswell Lectures: Borders and Identity

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Jose Antonio VargasWithin the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, join us for an engaging weekend of workshops, worship, direct action, and networking around the theme of “Borders and Identity.”

Migration across all kinds of borders—both physical and metaphorical—is reshaping our understanding of identity across boundaries of race, culture, religion, sexuality, gender, and nationality. It has been a major, and divisive, theme of national politics. Halfway through the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, join us for an engaging weekend of workshops, worship, direct action, and community building. The conference will emphasize practical skills, timely resources, and a deeper analysis of the critical issues facing us at this moment. Our goal is to equip leaders to stand for justice with all those on the borders and margins.

Register for “Borders & Identity” now

“Immaculate Desire: The Place Your Desire and God’s Desire in You Collides”: Reflections from Alumna Christine Haider-Winnett (MDiv ’15)

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Christine Haider-WinnettAlumna Christine Haider-Winnett (MDiv ’15) shared the below reflection at a PSR Chapel Service.

I can’t tell you how special it is to be here with you today. For those of you who don’t know me, I graduated from PSR in 2015 and my husband, Alex, is still a student here. I am now an ordained deacon seeking the priesthood through Roman Catholic Woman Priests, a group of women ordained validly but illegally in the Catholic tradition.

The very first time I preached at PSR chapel was almost exactly 5 years ago, when I offered a short reflection on what Our Lady of Guadalupe means to me. So, it seems so sacred and perfect to be spending another Advent reflecting on Our Lady in this space that continues to shape my life, my ministry and my family.

I will be honest and tell you that I found it easier to speak about Our Lady of Guadalupe all those years ago. Our Lady of Guadalupe is a reminder of everything I love about Mary: this weird, fierce sacred woman who incarnates the lived experiences of oppressed people and inspires us to work for justice.

On the face of it, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception seems to be the polar opposite of Our Lady of Guadalupe. While Our Lady of Guadalupe is portrayed as a fierce goddess, the mother of God who enters into the human story to defend and inspire her people, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception can easily be seen as a fragile little girl. Someone so pure and dainty that she’s hard to relate to.

Perhaps most troubling, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception seems to present a problem with Mary’s ability to consent: how could Mary have been chosen at conception to be the mother of God and yet still have been able to freely answer “yes” to God’s call? If she was already conceived without sin for the express purpose of bringing the Christ Child into the world, what choice did she really have but to say to the angel Gabriel “May it be done to me according to God’s will?” Did she really have the freedom to say no?

I think the answer to this question lies most clearly in the Magnificat, the song Mary sings at her cousin Elizabeth’s house. In the Magnificat, it becomes clear that this miracle pregnancy is something that God is doing with Mary, not something done to her. Mary portrays herself as an active participant in this moment. She blesses God as she sings “my heart proclaims the greatness of the lord” and she receives God’s blessing with joy stating “from this day forward, all generations will call me blessed.” Mary enthusiastically rejoices in a collaboration between herself and God.

In the Magnificat, it is clear that Mary freely claims and has agency in what is happening to her. But at the same time, there does seem to be something cosmic and fateful about this pregnancy. Mary chose to birth the Christ Child, but I don’t think it was simply a choice. Instead, I think she is rejoicing at having finally uncovered her calling—having found what her heart was most deeply longing for. Mary rejoices because, like Jeremiah before her, she can hear God whisper: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I consecrated you.” After years of searching, Mary finally realizes exactly what she has been consecrated for.

If you are here at PSR, maybe that means that you, too, have seen glimmers of what God has consecrated you for. I have been lucky enough to experience that a few times in my life: I felt it as a thirteen-year-old girl sitting in my small-town Catholic church when I first knew I was called to be a priest. I felt it last year, during my ordination as a deacon, when my bishop (a fabulous 80 year old woman with a purple streak in her hair) laid hands on my head.

And I felt it a few more times: When, at 16, I realized that the feelings I had for a female friend were more than friendship, and I finally claimed something queer within me. And I felt it years later, when I first realized my husband was the person I wanted to grow old with. I felt it earlier this year, the first time that I heard my baby’s heartbeat on the sonogram.

These moments were more than a simple choice on my part, and were more than something chosen for me by God. They were moments where my joy collided with God’s rejoicing in me. Moments when a lifelong longing suddenly made sense. When the kindling fire that God had set before my birth finally burst into flame. These were, simply, moments I fell in love.

To me, the Immaculate Conception is the celebration of those moments in each of our lives. It’s the recognition that all of us—not just Mary and Jeremiah—were known by God and consecrated for a purpose from the first moments of our creation. This day is a reminder that our life’s destiny is to uncover and live out the purpose God set for us, a purpose that is made most clear to us in moments of love, and passion and desire.

And so, as we celebrate this weird and sometimes uncomfortable feast of the immaculate conception, I invite you to see it—not as a denigration of sexuality—but as a celebration of desire. A celebration of that desire that God set in our hearts before we were born—desire for one another, for our vocations, and for the sacred. A celebration of the ways that our longings can serve as our true compass, pointing us toward our calling: that place where our joy and God’s rejoicing in us collides.


Christine Haider-Winnett graduated from Pacific School of Religion in 2015 with a Masters in Divinity. She also holds a Certificate in Women’s Studies in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union and a BA in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College. Christine is an ordained deacon in Roman Catholic Womanpriests (USA) and former Co-President of the Women’s Ordination Conference, the largest organization in the world working for women’s equality in the Catholic Church. She currently serves as deacon at St. Hildegard Catholic Community in Berkeley, California. Christine and her husband Alex (also a PSR student) are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. You can learn more about Christine’s ministry here.

Reflections on Transgender Day of Remembrance

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Godfree McIntyre, MDiv/CSR Student, shared the following reflection for our Transgender Day of Remembrance chapel service.

Layers upon layers of heavy blankets of judgment and destruction are thrown with a brutal careless violence of oblivious hatred on the flames of transgender life by people afraid of things they do not understand, and yet … we exist. We continue to exist. And we do not exist in a vacuum.

We exist in a world of humanity that is created in God’s image. A colorful world of unfathomable diversity. Human bodies of all shapes and sizes and colors and abilities embody expressions of every nuance of gender, and orientation, and personality woven through the infinity tapestry of Creator’s being, Source of our being. And no thing created is flat or two dimensional. Certainly, no human being is only one color with no gradient, one sound with no harmonics, one gender with no divergence. We all transgress the lines of the boxes…those constructions of control that would paint all walls white and make all streets straight. We all defy the “norm” no matter how well wrapped in it we may be, our truth…God’s truth is always resisting and trying to break forth.

The spirit of the creator calls us forth into muddy, messy, beautiful, chaotic authenticity. Our transcestors lived their truth. They poured their grief, and joy, and pain, and passion into the air around us…their breaths and voices in concert continue to impact the atmosphere. And we carry them with us as we carry on defying the lie that God hates, that normal is narrow, that freedom is a criminal act. We each living our truth make known the truth that God is ever with us, loving us, delighted in us.

Let’s remember every day the power of the testimony lived by our transcestors and on their shoulders continue to raise a voice and demonstration antithetic to those smothering blankets of oppression….not only for the right to exist, but in celebration of the wonder and beauty of the image of the ever-present God expressed in our uniquenesses in symphony. Let’s lift one another up in the presence of the Holy Who is indeed beyond all binaries, who calls us each by name and loves us all beyond measure.