Susan Brownmiller 42 Years Later

Ever since “locker room talk” became part of our national conversation and accusations of assault became daily events, I’ve been asking men I know and trust about such things.  I’m the mother of two men, the wife of one, the daughter of another, the sister of two others. I honestly do not believe they have participated in “locker room talk” as defined by our President.

But this article makes me sad.

“harassment was not something he had thought much about before” 

I’m not sure most men have thought it about it much because they don’t have to think about it.  Yes, men can be victims of harassment (hello Kevin Spacey) but women have been harassed and worse since the beginning of time.  Susan Brownmiller wrote about this in 1975.  Even since men realized they could physically overpower women, there has been harassment and worse.

I do not believe that all men cognitively participate in objectifying women.  But there are many who know exactly what they are doing and it’s about power.  All women are subjected to power plays – some very ugly power plays – and it’s become so normalized, we shove those experiences aside and move on.  They run the spectrum from unwitting to intentional.

Years ago, I was officiating at a graveside ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, burying a beloved parishioner.  It’s an enormous privilege to officiate at a burial in Arlington.  You are surrounded by  history and precision and reverence.

I was standing beside the widow who had just been presented with a neatly folded flag by the honor guard when the funeral director leaned over and whispered into my ear what he would like to do to me after the service.  The operative words here were “do to me.”

Creepy men count on women not to make a scene.  What was I going to do?  Slap the funeral director at the graveside at Arlington National Cemetery?  My only response was to find another ride home after the service.  I was not about to get in the hearse with that guy and I never got in a car with him again.  But I didn’t report this to anyone.  The only people I told were other clergywomen who might work with him and my words were a warning, not a sexual misconduct report.

In my late 20s I attended a Volunteer Fire Department banquet which honored several men in my congregation who were volunteers.  The keynote speaker from a State Fire Fighters organization sat beside me on the dais and identified himself to me as a Christian who didn’t believe in the ordination of women.  He even had a Bible with him and he pointed out a couple verses to make his point.  And then he stood up and began his address with  a rape joke.  I can’t make this stuff up.

Ours is a rape culture.  I hate to say that.  I hate to write such a negative thing on a beautiful Monday morning, but it’s true.  And what we can do about it is to call everyday violence against women – along with the obvious criminal activity – what it is:  dehumanizing.  If we believe that women are created in the Image of God, if we believe that women are holy and treasured then all of us will work to shift this culture.

Abusers are counting on the fact that their victims will be too afraid to speak up. They count on the fact that ladies have been taught not to make a scene in public when someone pinches them or grabs them or whispers vile comments into their ears.

We not only need to teach men about consent.  We need to make it safe for women to make a scene.

Image from the Twitter account @Son_of_JorEl22 .  When I see this kind of thing in the future, I hope I’ll have the guts to start a conversation.


They Could Do It; They Just Don’t Want To

Once upon a time there were church people who volunteered a little or a lot or not at all in their congregations.  But they would all gather in pews on Sunday mornings after Sunday School, and the pastor would lead worship and then everybody would go home or head out to brunch.

Those congregations are dying today mostly because their church culture hasn’t kept up with the cultural shifts in our world.  21st Century Pastors are called to be culture shifters in hopes that our communities look more like the Biblical Church.  Almost every day, I hear colleagues tell me what they would love to do with their congregations:

  • Expand a ministry to include disabled neighbors.
  • Offer classes in radical hospitality.
  • Re-work the Christian Education schedule to make it easier for new members to participate.
  • Partner with other local congregations for community mission.
  • Open an unused space for daily use by homeless neighbors.
  • Invite unchurched teenagers to use their church gym after school.

Their churches have the capacity to do all these things to expand their ministry and their impact.  But they don’t want to.

I’ve heard church boards hear about needs in their congregations and beyond, only to sit there with no response.  There’s simply no energy to do more than what they’ve always done even if “what they’ve always done” isn’t working any more.

This kind of stuck-ness will be the death of the church – or at least the death of some churches.  We have enormous power and opportunity to transform the world for good in the name of Jesus Christ.  But many of our people won’t even try to be the Church we could be.

Jesus suggests that leaders shake the dust off our feet and move on but that seems unnecessarily dramatic if all the pastor wants is for the congregation to try something new.

  • Is the issue trust?  (They don’t trust the pastor?)
  • Is the issue fear? (They fear they can’t afford it/someone will get angry?)
  • Is the issue a failure of vision?  (This is the worst.)

Where is your congregation in terms of vision?  Do we really want to be the people God has called us to be or not?

Speaking for myself, as I seek a new call, I am excited to find people who are energized by being the 21st Century Church.  God is doing a new thing!  I hope you feel it too.

Hopeful Moments/Hopeless Moments

Systems are very difficult to change:  systemic racism, systemic poverty, systemic political corruption come to mind.  Social workers, community activists, teachers in poor schools, and random idealists work hard not to succumb to despair.

This time last year, profound hopelessness overcame many American voters who – whether they voted for the Democratic candidate or not – found it impossible to believe that a person like now-President Trump could be elected.  Some churches even held prayer vigils.  Some churches celebrated.  Many were silent.

A year later, many who felt hopeless after the 2016 elections feel buoyant today.  The state delegate who wanted to restrict public bathroom use for transgender people was defeated by a transgender woman.  Another delegate who had been endorsed by the NRA was defeated by a candidate who ran on a gun control platform after his girlfriend was shot on live television by a troubled gunman.

These are dramatic examples of what some would call Hopeful Moments.  But we need hopeful moments every day.

We can’t dismantle unjust systems on our own.  When I talk with idealistic young teachers whose students are enduring multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences or social workers with overwhelming case loads, it’s clear that they entered their fields with the greatest optimism.  But fighting unfair systems wears us down.

We have got to work together, and I’m talking specifically about the Church here.  I’m not just talking about whole congregations working together; I’m talking about congregations partnering with other congregations and other faiths.  Organizing for justice together is one of the marks of a successful 21st Century ministry.  Organizing together makes those hopeful moments more prevalent.  And more light in a dark world is always good.

A good question for us in the Church to ask every day:  What did I do to bring hope today?  What did my community do to bring hope?

If we are only about getting the church bulletin done and finding a coffee hour volunteer on a given work day, we’ve missed Jesus’ point.


The Difference Between Making Friends & Making Allies

If you want to succeed in public life . . . you must both know yourself (what makes you tick), be interested in others (what makes them tick) and be willing to be vulnerable and accountable with others and enter into relationships with them that lead to action.  Edward T. Chambers

The Community Organizing curriculum from this training in October continues to inspire me in ministry.   Many of us would agree that:

  • Emotional intelligence is essential for effective ministry.
  • Authentic relationships make or break pastoral performance.
  • We are more connected than ever in terms of social media but we are also more isolated than ever.

Many of us Church People have known great preachers who cannot carry on a genuine conversation with another human being.  We have met great administrators whose words and actions offend.  We have know efficient task masters who Get Things Done but crush people along the way.

This is a problem.

We were created to be in authentic relationship with God and with each other.  This means that we share our imperfections and we admit our mistakes.  (God already knows about these things.)  It means that we rely on God’s grace and not an image of perfection to get through the day.  It means that we find enrichment from hearing other people’s stories and sharing our own.

The whole question about whether or not parishioners can be friends with the pastor is ongoing, but learning the difference between Public Relationships and Private Relationships is helpful.  Private relationships (friendships) happen spontaneously between roommates, co-workers, soccer parents,  or yoga pals, for example.  Public relationships are intentional alliances created by one-on-one meetings for the purpose of working together for a common passion.  The point is to connect in hopes of making the world a little bit more like God created it to be.

Relationships are everything. 

We need relationships with friends for social and emotional community. And making friends is hard – especially after elementary school.

We need relationships with allies for building a public collective that leads to positive change in the world.  And making allies takes hard work. But it’s an essential adult skill that leaders need to add to our toolbox for the sake of the Gospel.

Read Ed Chambers’ little book for more.  It will make Jesus happy.






It Boils Down to . . .

What does it boil down to?

It could be a mental health problem.  It could be a gun problem.  It could be a misogyny problem.  It could be a sin problem.

The cycle begins again with another shooting, another statement from the President, another non-stop media frenzy, another call for gun reform, another rush to buy more guns, another series of “thoughts and prayers” lifted.

We all agree there is a problem.  What we don’t agree on is what we are going to do about it.

There are people walking on this earth at this very moment who will be the next victims of a mass shooting.  This is almost certain.  They are at work, in school, playing sports.  It could be me.  It could be you.

In Community Organizing Training a couple weeks ago, we were taught that when someone states that there is a problem, the response is:  What are you going to do about it?

What are we going to do about it?

  • Nothing?
  • Wear armor in public?
  • Practice lock-down protocols?
  • Practice self-defense with our own guns?
  • Think and pray?
  • Write letters to our members of Congress?
  • Troll the NRA?
  • Watch 24/7 news coverage and comment on social media?

The community indeed has organized in some ways.  The Sandy Hook Parents organized.  Various gun control groups organized.  But no organization has been effective in making it stop. We can protest and bone up on mental health issues and take precautions, but what will make a difference?

It boils down to whether or not we will accept that God has commanded that we do something.  Remember those commandments?

Who will lead us?  (It’s a serious question.)


Pants We Didn’t Realize Were On Fire

It burns.  

In my years of professional ministry there have been occasional moments when someone has come to me in need of pastoral care after discovering that what they once believed to be true about their parents/siblings/spouses/friends is actually not true at all.  Sometimes these truths are revealed after people pass away or when a secret child shows up or when someone on her death bed decides to clear the air before breathing her last.

These moments can be devastating.  They can shatter trust.  And they can happen even in the thick of ordinary life in terms of “what we have always believed.”

I was taught that M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hands . . . until I was holding a fistful of them in my hand one summer and they melted like butter.

I was taught that our great nation offers “liberty and justice to all” and that if people work hard, they will succeed . . . until I got to know people who worked much harder than I did who were struggling to catch a break time after time.

I was taught all my life that Robert E. Lee was a great man, a general who – against his own deep sense of patriotism – chose to support his beloved Virginia during the Civil War.  I was told he hated slavery from both my history textbooks and Shelby Foote. (Shelby, how could you?)  The truth is that he, too, was a slave holder.

At the risk of having you make the false assumption that I don’t love M&Ms, my country, or my Southern heritage, can we admit that we all tell lies?

  • Sometimes we tell lies inadventently because we deeply believe they are actually the God’s Honest Truth.
  • Sometimes we tell lies because we want them to be true.
  • Sometimes we tell lies to protect ourselves or someone else.

Lying – whether we are talking about fake news, or political operations, or history as told by the winners, or face-saving devices – is a sin.  If that sounds too pious, one could also say that lies ruin things. Lies enslave people. Jesus encourages us to seek the truth because – you know – the truth will make you free.

But first it will make us miserable because we will be disappointed.

What if following Jesus = always seeking the truth – not only about ourselves but also about our world history?  Remember when Ben Affleck denied his own ancestral history of slave owningTruth is hard.

Most of us are not proud when learning that our beloved ancestors, for example, enslaved other human beings.  I know I’m not proud of it.  But shame doesn’t bring wholeness.  Wholeness comes when we confront what is true, when we lament, when we make amends, when we ask forgiveness – whatever is required in our particular situation.

Hermann Göring’s daughter never believed that her father was guilty of war crimes during WWII in spite of the evidence that resulted in his death sentence.  She said that she only knew him as a loving parent. Sometimes we just can’t bring ourselves to believe that people can be this complicated:  that a loving father was actually a Nazi.  That our ancestors could have been members of the KKK or perpetrators of sexual abuse or incarcerated for embezzlement or – that they were simply liars.

As a native North Carolinian with a Great Great Grandfather who fought and died at Antietam for the Confederate States, I have much to learn.  And I’m taking some time to teach myself after Thanksgiving.  I want to be free too, so I’m seeking the truth about my own heritage throughout the South.  I hope to light a different kind of fire.




My notion of saints has been impacted by watching Season 2 of Stranger ThingsI love this show for many reasons but one of them is the culture of making sacrifices for others.  This is saintly behavior – even on Netflix.

Spoiler Alert:  Steve gives us the starting lineup for babysitting.  Barb gave up her life for BFF cover up. Joyce gives up Mother of the Year for saving the planet.

Last night during Trick or Treating, I observed a big brother choosing a Twizzler over a Reese’s Pumpkin because little brother said he wanted the last Reese’s.  In the past week, I witnessed community organizers giving up their own privilege for others.  I watch people every day do make sacrifices from giving up their seat on the train to giving up their vacation money to ensure that a refugee family gets a car.

This is what 21st Century sainthood looks like.  Thanks be to God.

Image is All Saints Day by Wassily Kandinsky (1911)

The Imperfect Reformer

On our way to visit the Castle Church in Wittenberg about 30 days ago, HH and I stopped to visit other church buildings where Martin Luther had preached.  Although my German is negligible, I recognized the word “Juden” in some of the quotations painted in the lobbies of one church building.  The words were hateful.  In the entry to the Church.

Martin Luther recognized that reforms were necessary for the Church to be faithful.  What he didn’t recognize was that Jewish people are beloved children of God and the Church will never be faithful until we accept that truth.

Our reformers have always been imperfect.

While the Reformation changed many things, it didn’t change everything.  And as we continue to reform God’s Church in these days, we continue to cling to our blind spots and our unfaithful biases.

Do you know that you can walk right up to the Castle Church doors in Wittenberg and touch them?  The original wooden doors burned during the Seven Years War about 50 years after Luther’s famous hammering moment. Now the door is bronze with the 95 Theses imprinted into it.

But the door itself is not holy.  It’s just a door.  Worshippers leave through this door after worship.

What happens after we leave through those historic doors is the true reformation.  The way we treat our neighbors and our enemies, the way we make everyday choices.  My hope is that 500 years from today, the Church will continue to be reforming in ways that please God.  Not one of us has gotten it right yet.

The Accidental Prophet

I was raised to be A Good Girl.  A Good Girl is compliant.  She doesn’t complain.  Her job is to take care of things. She rarely stands up for herself.  She takes the bullet.  She is nice.

Prophets are often angry. They rarely stop to rest.  The problems of the world rest on their shoulders.  They are often humorless.

I would like to redefine these narratives.

A 21st Century Good Girl persists for the sake of righteousness.  She puts on her own air mask before she helps those around her.  She expresses what is true in the most loving way possible, and she realizes that she cannot fix everything but that’s okay. It’s her job to organize people who will work to fix it together.

A 21st Century Prophet persists for the sake of righteousness.  She puts on her own air mask before she helps those around her.  She expresses what is true in the most loving way possible and she realizes that she cannot fix everything but that’s okay.  It’s not her job to fix it.  It’s her job to organize people who will work to fix it together.

Moving forward.  I hope you are too.

Image of a couple of Good Girls circa 1979.

The #1 Reason Why Theories Won’t Fix Our Churches

I’ve been doing church redevelopment work and culture shifting for a while.  I’ve participated in lots of training in theories and movements.  The big theorists’ names are familiar to many of us.

I’ve worked with congregations and mid-councils who have tried multiple programs and used a variety of consultants and spent lots of money on it all. But usually nothing changes and often things become worse.  Trust is diminished and impact is minimal.  And it’s all because of a single thing that Community Organizing has taught me this week.

Relationships are everything.  Our relationships with each other and with God make or break our best efforts.

If we do not have have authentic relationships, every theory we try and every movement we join will fail.  If we do not choose healthy leaders who have healthy followers, if we do not lift up leaders with strong emotional intelligence, whatever efforts we make leave our people anxious and frustrated.

Healthy relationships = healthy churches and systems. That’s pretty much where effective ministry begins and ends.