Fire Arms

In light of the recent shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX this past weekend, as well as, the collective rise in mass shootings in our country, many have asked what my thoughts on gun control are. Others have also asked, given I pastor a church on the “rough” side of town in Long Beach, CA, what my opinion is on the possibility of ministers and/or church security “packing heat” to ensure the safety of its members.

Let me, first, express my heartfelt condolences to those who have lost loved ones to horrific acts of gun violence, both, recently and in the past. Whether guns are controlled or not, the loss of a loved one to these devastating acts feels the same.

A loss is a loss.

I mourn with those who mourn and, maybe this incident is closer to home for me even more this time around, as one of the victims this past weekend was the daughter of the pastor of the church where the shooting took place. I offer up my prayers and my heart’s cry to those in Texas mourning this weekend. May God’s peace and presence minister to them and to all of us.

Having said that, for the sake of this post and to answer the questions that have been streaming my way as of late, I want to merely express my personal views on guns. This post is not to express one way or the other my thoughts on the larger debate of gun control. It simply is to address guns and how it relates to my personal life.

I grew up in a predominately gang infested neighborhood where violence of all sorts was a normal fabric of my life. Police sirens and “ghetto birds” were part of the daily soundtrack to my life’s music. Whether being “jumped” myself or fighting others and whether shots rang out through my block or guns being tossed in the alley near the back of my house, I knew violence all too well. I’ve had friends shot over the wrong colors worn and have had friends fired rounds because someone in gym class talked too much trash on the basketball courts. I became quite fast at running, as escaping whizzing bullets and fleeing from rivaling neighborhoods became the norm. And, because of the landscape of my childhood, sleeping on the floor, knowing the safe routes while walking home from school, and learning how to stare at others the right way became practices I mastered.

In addition to gang violence, I had a number of friends who took their own lives at the hands of guns.

All that to say…I am not against guns. I believe people should have the right to bare arms. I believe citizens in our country should be empowered to protect their families in the way they see fit. I know a range of people, from family members and friends, who own fire arms and are very responsible. However, because of the gun violence I experienced in my past, I personally wouldn’t bare arms. I wouldn’t have a gun in my home. And I wouldn’t even allow “church security” to bare arms at my church; especially in the context in which we minister in. I believe it would send the wrong message to the potentially “violent” people we’re trying to reach out to. Call it the trauma of my past, but the idea of me being near any kind of fire arm causes a lot of stress. Even as I write this post, I can’t help but revisit the images I’ve seen growing up. And, as many of you know who’ve been through traumatic situations, you can’t un-see the things you’ve already seen.

Guns are powerful forces and I believe they should be treated with the utmost respect.


Love in a Crewneck Sweatshirt


I didn’t realize how much a simple sweatshirt could truly make a difference in a young kid’s life. It wasn’t until I met with Megan Traver, principal of Washington Middle School in Long Beach, that I began to see how a seemingly insignificant move to a semi-school uniform format would drastically change the sense of safety at her school for the better.

Megan described a moment, soon after they made the switch to the navy and red sweatshirts, where the PE staff and students noticed a young boy not dressed to code. They noticed a blur of a kid swiftly walking across the playground wearing an orange sweater. The staff knew right away that the blur wasn’t one of their kids. They bum rushed the odd boy out and, sure enough, he turned out to be a stranger. He turned out to be a teenaged stranger strapped with $2,000 and a handful of meth in his pockets.

It was an immediate unsafe situation for the staff and students.

The upside to implementing the uniformed system is the students at Washington Middle School are now in a more safe environment to cultivate better learning. The downside is the majority of the students can’t afford to buy sweatshirts. Many of the students come from families who live in poverty and many others come from families who live on the streets. The school has devised a check out system where students can borrow sweatshirts on any given day and return them when the school day ends.

These, among many other stories where poverty is a real hinderance to a child’s learning, are enough reasons why our church, The Branch, has officially adopted Washington. From staff appreciation events to on going mentorships is what I envision developing. We truly care about our city and we care about the up and coming generation.

Will you join us in showing simple acts of love to our community?

If you’re interested in helping, our first move toward assisting our youth at Washington is providing ongoing sweatshirt drop offs. Each sweatshirt is only $7 and we plan to drop a few sweatshirts to the school throughout the year. So, this definitely isn’t a one time thing. We plan to invest in the students of the school for the long haul.

Simply click here and select “Washington Middle School” in the drop down menu.

Thank you, ahead of time, for your generosity and your desire to practice love in a tangible way.