Check? Please.

“Check your privilege” is a stupid slogan, because “check” is a meaningless verb unless it is applied to a hockey player, a sound technician, or an anxious person worried they left the iron plugged in. Last weekend I saw a person, a white person, carrying a sign at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in our majority white Northside Chicago neighorhood, holding a sign that read: “White people, listen: check your privilege.” I recoiled. This person must have done a lot of personal privilege-checking to feel comfortable instructing thousands of strangers to do the same, strangers who mostly look like her and live in the neighborhood she lives in, which, due to redlining, has historically excluded black people from home ownership.

Privilege needs more than checked. It needs forfeited, and that won’t happen without a fight. That won’t fit on a sign.


Hijacked Again

The instructions for the photo scavenger hunt were on all the junior high kids’ screens, shared using a Zoom function I’ve employed weekly since March with no difficulty. But a smudge appeared on the screen, and then another. I asked my co-leader if she saw it. She did. As if granted permission, then, the smudge spread out over the entire slide as a dark scribble, obscuring the instructions from view.

Clearly, somebody was hijacking the slide. “How is that happening?” I asked. One student replied in the chat: “Must be a glitch.”

Uh huh.

I suddenly recalled this experience from 2014:

They’re always ahead of me on the technology.


Say It

You’re a hypocrite. You profess conviction about things in public that your private decisions undermine, often unconsciously, sometimes with a wincing, shoulder-shrugging acknowledgement, and, on certain very rare occasions, with bald complicity.

Authenticity is important, and we should be moving every day in the direction of congruence between what we say and how we actually live. Phonies are intolerable.

Black Lives Matter. Say it. Put it on a sign and take it to the street. The moment you do so you expose your hypocrisy and open yourself up to interrogation by the Phonie Finders and the Whatabouts. They, threatened and uncomfortable, will point out your complicity in perpetuating white supremacy and your cozy coexistence with racism, and they will be right.

Say it anyway. Public failure is a useful inoculation against inaction. Plus, consider the source: how much do you care about the critique of those who aren’t even trying?

Say it anyway. Self-aware hypocrisy is more useful than the smug silence of the self-satisfied. The self-aware own the chasm between their words and their actions, and they work to shrink it. That’s productive; the chasm will never completely close and there will forever be more to do. The self-satisfied avoid the chasm by saying nothing, protecting themselves from accusation. Good for them, bad for everyone else.

Black Lives Matter. Say it. Speaking truth has a way of changing more than your mouth.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.