Church

Tension

This feeling of uncertainty and not knowing the right thing to do is good. For those of us who accustomed to the comfort of clear expectations and uncontested boundaries, the moment when the boundaries are questioned and the expectations upended is very disorienting. We probably need that. Not only because we need to heighten our awareness of all the people who have those expectations foisted upon them and the boundaries enforced, physically and economically, but also because we won’t grow if we’re always comfortable.

Take heart: tension contains possibility.

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Church

Now And Later

The time to act is now, because the building is burning and lives are at stake now. Not for the first time, now, but definitely now. Lots of nuanced deliberation is not the order of this day. We need to move.

And keep moving.

A fire doesn’t ask you what you think you should do. The action it requires is urgent and obvious. But urgency will fade as the flames subside to a simmer and the crowds disburse and people begin to talk about something else. What will we be doing then to douse those scorching embers that are still burning? That matters just as much as the things we’re doing now, when the flames demand attention.

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Church

This Is Why To Blog

Yesterday I wrote a pastoral note for the weekly youth ministry newsletter and a draft of a proposal for a committee. I didn’t start my day planning to do either. Yet they got done, and with less hair pulling than you might expect; the words came.

I feel like this is the great benefit of blogging several times a week, that when public words are required the muscle is ready, because you’ve been writing for public consumption as a regular habit. Whether the public consumes it or not is not what trains the muscle. That they could makes all the difference. So when the occasion arises that demands public speech, it doesn’t come as a new kind of demand, but one you’ve been meeting as a choice for some time.

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Church

It’s Right. It’s All Right. All of It Is Right.

If you are using Twitter and Facebook and Instagram to follow the nationwide demonstrations following George Floyd’s murder, then you are consuming a serious volume of moral and ethical prescriptions about what this moment requires.

Posts instructing you to speak out about injustice are bundled with tweets reminding you to privilege voices other than your own, and informed takes on the pervasiveness of systemic race prejudice in America urge you to both recognize your complicity in those systems and to take steps to dismantle them.

It’s right. It’s all right. All of it is right.

And it’s a bit intimidating, because it is so right. Which imperative do you prioritize? What happens if you do or say something wrong? Will you end up making matters worse? The plurality and the passion of the voices urging action are compelling and confusing at the same time.

We may need to trust our gut here. If your impulse is to reach out in empathy, then make a call or send a text. If you want to know more and to understand better, then read up–that’s not doing nothing. If you feel compelled to speak, then write a post or convene a conversation–if you trust us to receive your less-than-perfect sense of things, we’ll trust you with our honest reaction.

We need more connections right now, not fewer, between earnest people who desire to make things more just and less racist, even if many of us are operating with imperfect rationales and underdeveloped self-awareness and implicit biases. Flawed engagement beats unimpeachable disengagement every time, because it leads to better future engagement–and this struggle is far from over.

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Church

Speaking And Listening

Speaking and listening at the same time is a particular skill that is badly needed right now.

Those with positions and platforms can use their voices to the good, in part by amplifying the voices of those who don’t have positions and platforms that customarily get listened to. Frequently without even being asked, these folks are able to speak a word with impact.

How to choose the word to speak; how to speak it to positive effect; how to discern when to speak it an to whom: these are critical skills that add up.

And so is the skill to say nothing, to let others have the microphone and say the thing you would have said. The awareness that, perhaps, these are not conditions that will benefit the most from your particular voice and that, in fact, you need to hear from others to better understand, is invaluable.

It’s about sense, it seems. Leaders need to sense what’s best for the moment. That sense probably comes with experience and relationships, from learning and connecting. Those are things for which it is always the moment.

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Church

Trolls

Meredith and I taught young Laura to say “Obama” on the drive to visit her Fox News-watching grandparents when she was younger than two years old. It must have been 2009. The thought of how they would react to hear their granddaughter, who could barely say her own name, speak the name of the President they’d voted against made us giddy.

We were trolls.

The troll cares less about the figure they support than they do about your antagonism toward that figure. Your antipathy is their game. John Stewart’s Daily Show was fueled for eight years by a reliable stream of conservative media outrage over Obama. Without all those clips of Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera breathlessly fulminating over the President, Stewart would have had a lot less to work with. And, of course, those zealots at Trump rallies live for every expression of indignation at the President’s latest tweet. You’re upset at their guy, and that’s why they love him. It’s about you more than it’s about him.

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but it’s often used to mean don’t engage at all. That cedes all the discourse to the trolls. Engage, but deny them what they most seek, which is you, exorcised.

Laura’s grandparents knew how to handle trolls. Because, though I remember training a troll on them, I don’t remember them reacting to it.

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Church

You Can’t Not Know By Now

Cell phone videos and the internet make it impossible to hide from the truth about America, that it openly harbors a murderous impulse toward African-Americans. The post-racial myth I learned in school during the 80’s and 90’s is long vanquished by the grisly racist reality recorded by hand and shared with a few taps to millions of screens countless times in just the past five years. The reality on the screen was never not the reality for black people in America, but it was never so difficult as now for white people to avoid experiencing it with our own eyes.

In my comprehension of the history of racist violence against African-Americans, the killing of Michael Brown in August, 2014, is not a watershed moment. It was not a thing that had not happened before, and the protests it ignited were not unprecedented. But in my mind “Michael Brown” is the first name in a list that rapidly grew to include Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Philando Castille, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, and many, many more, a list of black Americans whose deaths and their tragic consequences have been viewable on social media. These are names you can’t not know and videos of murders you can’t un-see. If you don’t know their names and you haven’t seen what was done to them, you’ve made a choice not to.

Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd are the latest additions to that damnable list. Their killings were recorded. You can watch them too. I can’t say if you should watch them or not, but you must come to know them, and it’s not hard. There is no un-knowing the violence America is still unleashing on its black citizens, and the inevitability of that knowledge should lead us to grieve, to rend our garments and sit among the ashes, to mourn what we are and what we have wrought.

Outrage is critical. Analysis is indispensable–we need to understand privilege and systemic racism and implicit bias and institutionalized white supremacy. And still, performance of outrage and analysis can short circuit lament, and I can’t see any way through this hell that doesn’t get neck-deep in sorrow, not as an alternative to action but as its proper motivation.

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Church

What To Do

Don’t know what to do about a problem? Call someone who’s facing the same problem and ask them what they’re doing about it. They probably don’t know what to do either, and you don’t want to copy their solution anyway, but you’ll have a conversation, and that’s better than solitary stewing.

If they’ll let you, record the conversation to share with the rest of us. We don’t know what to do either.

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Church

Read And Write

There are stretches of days when reading feels more urgent than writing. Things are happening quickly, important things, and even though your writing is not specifically concerned with the machinations of politics and culture, you feel that to take time writing without first understanding what’s going on is arrogance.

But . . .

The writer of whatever you’re choosing to read is also functioning with an understanding deficit; if complete understanding were a prerequisite for writing, we’d have a lot of unused paper on hand and news organizations would go bankrupt tomorrow.

It’s a false choice: read or write. We do both simultaneously. Each activity better tunes us for the other.

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Church

Access

Last night I slept on a couch because a kid two days from 12 slid into my bed before I got there, having abandoned the makeshift bed she’d made for herself in her closet after about 10 minutes. She’d spent much of the afternoon in that closet, with the door shut and her headphones on, a perfect private retreat. She found the access panel to the bathroom plumbing in there, and it felt like the uncovering of some stirring mystery, such that she proposed placing a time capsule inside of it, just behind the panel. Her mother and I played along, though we discouraged the inclusion of snack foods.

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