I Thought We Understood Consent

The thing I am struggling to grasp about the present revalatory avalanche of sexual harassment and assault allegations is the timing. I mean the timing in terms of decades, not days.

I was in high school in the early 90’s. Bill Clinton was Exhibit A at school and at home about what¬†not to do as a man with respect to women. Talk of harassment in the workplace, terms like “consent” and the phrase “No means no” were not just part of my family norms (which they certainly were), they were in my public school curriculum.

I got a terrific sex education at public school. It was thorough about anatomy and contraception, but also about consent. My teachers were just as worried about coercion and abuse as they were about teen pregnancy. I remember it clearly.

I know. This behavior is not a problem of education. It’s about power. My public school sex ed teachers taught me that too. I guess I am baffled in the present moment because I have assumed for 25 years now that men my age and younger at least were on the same page about boundaries and no meaning no.

That assumption is another disappointing revelation.


What If People Want Deeper Instead of More?

The curriculum is fine. It might even be good. The calendar is ambitious. The program is solid or on its way to solid. There are options, there is diversity, there is clarity.

But if people want deeper instead of more, do I have a way for them to ask for it? Are we positioned to add something a participant wants to try, to experiment with them on something small and new and different that responds to some stirring in their soul?

The best program you can design is flawed if it doesn’t have any room to maneuver.

“Leave room for the Holy Spirit.”

Don’t Apologize To My Kid For Your Trump Vote

Nobody who voted for Donald Trump owes my kid an apology.

Her mother and I might even owe you a debt of gratitude. Since last November, our daughter has heard more and seen more of what her parents believe and value than ever before. The impact of that will be far greater than any damage the President of The United States, whoever that may be, can do to her.

Don’t apologize to Laura for your vote. Only watch out when she and her classmates are old enough to vote; these years with this President will not be lost on them.



A Clique Is Almost Good

A clique is so close to a good thing:

“A small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together . . . ”

It’s a recipe for connection, for power, for transformation. Except:

“. . . and do not readily allow others to join them.”

A clique is a community whose connections are, at their most innocuous, misapplied. Malicious cliques can be brutal.

I don’t think you can rid your youth group or your church of cliques, so don’t try. Don’t try to shame them out of existence, either; shared judgment only reinforces unhealthy connection. Instead, what if we taught cliques that critical skill they’re missing? What if we taught cliques how to invite others in?

I’m not stupid, so I know it’s not simply a matter of learning. Cliques refuse to allow outsiders in not because they don’t know how to but because they don’t want to. It’s a problem of will, not education.

But are will and education so far apart?

Hamster, Cat, Cat, Dog

Certain decisions feel like a trade off between order and life. Pets are a good case in point.

When my daughter was three, my wife suggested we get a hamster. We had no pets, and pets are good for kids. I did not want a hamster. All I could conceive of was mess and smell and noise, and for two years that’s exactly what we got.

Then it was a cat. In the pet store one day when daughter was five, the cat adoption lady placed this six week old kitten in her lap, and that was that. Daughter’s lap is still where that cat spends most of its time. Meanwhile, cat litter, hairballs, vomit, urine, hair, scratched furniture . . .

Adding a second cat didn’t help.

And now a dog. He’s been her since September, and he was all my doing. House training is proving challenging, though. It’s a mess.

Living things make mess and disrupt order. I’ve reached the limit of the order I can sacrifice to those things.

Where’s yours limit?

Stop Ignoring Positive Feedback

I’m into evaluation. At the end of my Confirmation talks and the related discussion guides I’m designing, I make sure to leave time for two questions:

  1. What about this was helpful for you?
  2. What about this could have been more helpful?

It helps to hear affirmation, not only for the dopamine boost but also to know that, yes, we can do that again next time. It works.

Of course, it also helps to hear critique. “Don’t leave us in the large group the whole time. It’s easier for us to interact when we’re in smaller groups.” Got it. Next time I’ll design that part differently.

The thing is, I’m a junkie for negative feedback. I want to tinker and fix, and I begin, proceed, and end with the presumption that my work is flawed and needs revision. I will dedicate hours to addressing one piece of critical feedback while ignoring two or three positive assessments. You do this too. We’re afraid that accepting the “good job” without some qualification will make us complacent, or, worse, arrogant.

That’s probably not a good long term learning strategy, because the positive feedback teaches us just as much as the negative. If persisting in error is stupid, so is altering success.

Ask if it works. If “yes,” trust the user, the student, the reader. She’s not lying. He’s not being “nice.” Accept that you did something well and do it again.

Show Your Work Friday

This Sunday I’m talking to our Confirmation class about the doctrine of Creation. It is essentially the module I made for this last year, although I added an emphasis here and there to respond to the questions this group of students is actually asking.

The question I always want to be asking with Confirmation curricula is: does it clarify faith? It’s not exactly a goal to persuade. It’s more a goal to clarify claims, to highlight confusions, remove obstacles, and welcome doubt; 13 year-old atheism doesn’t bother me at all, as long as the God they’re saying doesn’t exist is actually the one their church worships.

I Knew That Guy (On The Death of Roy Halladay)

I faced him only once, when I was 12. He was only 11. He struck me out. He struck us all out. He was a man among boys, and his name was uttered in the dugout with awe and fear.


When he was drafted out of high school I remembered that at-bat, how quickly it was over and how glad I was for it to be over, the terror his fastball inspired, though it only ever went straight and down the middle. Still, I didn’t dare swing.

I next saw him in a big league uniform, and it was then that I started to boast of my brief encounter with him, our shared home town and little league progeny. When he became an All Star, when he pitched a perfect game, when he threw a no-hitter in a playoff game–“I knew that guy.” It wasn’t entirely true, of course. I didn’t know him, and were I to show up at some out of town stadium to meet him he surely wouldn’t know me.

Still, it’s the kind of marginal association you share with friends and co-workers because you hope that it imparts to you some significance, some importance. Proximity to greatness only means that you happened to be someplace, not that you did anything worth remembering. But some days that feels like a lot.

I saw him again yesterday, this time in the report of his death, at 40. His two-seater airplane crashed in Tampa Bay.

Last night I watched his career highlight videos for what felt like a long time. I re-read the feature Tom Verducci wrote for Sports Illustrated about him in 2010, about how he almost failed, almost quit, but then worked his way back. The news networks reporting his accident showed images from his Twitter page, and I felt some irrational guilt for not following it.

And now, today, I find myself saying it again: “I knew that guy.”

The American Public Is One Big Victim of Mass Shootings

Churches. Synagogues. Mosques.

Elementary schools. High schools. Middle schools. Universities. Community Colleges.

Movies. Concerts. Malls. Restaurants. Nightclubs.

Post Offices. Military bases. Campaign rallies.


No public space in America is safe. All of the above have been targeted by perpetrators of mass shootings.

An active shooter scenario plays in my mind almost every time I lead worship. I locate all the exits. I imagine the quickest unimpeded route to various spots in the sanctuary where a shooter may be taking aim. I have been doing this for nearly a decade. I’ve shared it with some of my colleagues, who confide they do the same thing.

I also do it in movie theaters.

My neighbor, when we walk our respective 4th and 6th graders to school, stands at the school entrance until his son is inside the doors. He says he’s been doing that since Sandy Hook. He has a scenario too.

With each new incident, our imaginary scenarios lurch closer to a when and further from an if. The people in charge of America’s gathering spaces must now add active shooter drills to their fire drills and tornado drills as basic disaster preparedness.

But mass shootings aren’t tornadoes. They persist because of choices, not weather.

More mass shootings are no doubt in store for us because we keep choosing to permit individuals to own almost any kind of gun instead of choosing to protect movie-going, worshiping, learning, working populace from showers of bullets.

Because if you are not permitted to own a military-style assault rifle, are you really free?

Mass shootings happen because of mental health issues in the shooters, and because of ideology, be it racist, terrorist, homophobic, or anti-government, and because of personal vendettas and grievances. The mix of propellants is unique to each incident.

And yet every incident involves at least one gun. Some are handguns, some are rifles, some are shotguns, some are assault rifles. Most guns used in mass shootings are obtained legally, some are enhanced by illegal accessories. But they are all guns. There simply is not another tool that an individual can use to inflict such mass casualty. It’s what assault rifles are manufactured to do and what conventional guns can easily be made to do.

And still the gun, the only common denominator in every mass shooting, enjoys intense sympathy, even reverence, among a powerful enough segment of America to prevent any meaningful restrictions on their acquisition. Indeed, the two decade death march that started at Columbine and has now processed through Virginia Tech, Aurora, Orlando, Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, and many, many more public locales, seems only to have intensified guns’ protection. Gun control feels less likely now than it ever has.

Lord, have mercy.