When heroes hurt women

25 09 2018

I don’t think I’ve ever really had a hero. Women and men have mentored me – Mrs. MacDaniel, my high school English teacher; ‘Doc’ Yotes, my high school chemistry teacher; and Drs. Sandy Brown and Richard Peace, professors from seminary. Countless friends have served as both counselors and companions over the years; my colleagues in PA and VA have nurtured me in deep and meaningful ways; and of course my parents have taught me volumes of “life lessons.” But as far as a hero?

Nope! Never had one!

However few people have come closer than Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, in South Barrington, IL. He has been a guide, instructor, motivator, and ‘life coach’ to countless pastors and Church leaders around the world; and beginning back in the early 1990s, he began speaking into my life with profound prophetic wisdom and inspiring evangelistic passion.

Bill put Nancy Beach in a position of leadership at Willow long before women were being allowed to serve in such capacities. He recognized the heresies of the Religious Right back in the days when people first began assuming that following Jesus meant you had to vote Republican. And for the past twenty-plus years, while most people have focused on the dying nature of the Church, Bill Hybels has regarded it as the “hope of the world”.

Needless to say, when Hybels was forced to resign this past summer, just weeks before his retirement, because of sexual indiscretions with members of his staff as well as his congregation, many were saddened and surprised. We were not so much surprised by what he did, because old white men have been doing such things for way too long. We were surprised because a successful and privileged white man with power was finally being held accountable. We all know that nice people, even good pastors, do bad things all the time. But in too many instances, such . . . evil . . . is excused, overlooked, and explained away. Accountability is rare, if not nonexistent!

Now the sexual abuse and exploitation of women by white men in positions of power has gone on for years: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and most recently, in what is no doubt America’s most blatant disrespect for disrespect, Donald Trump. Patriotic charisma has been allowed to overshadow white men’s disregard for and assault of women for decades. “Boys will be boys” we’ve said! “That’s just the way men are wired” we’ve proclaimed. “Who hasn’t done such things when hormones were running crazy?” we’ve asked rhetorically. Even rude and offensive language has been written off as “locker room talk”. Most tragically, much of this dismissal has been at the hands of some of the most religious in our society.

But finally, things are beginning to change; for when heroes hurt women, it’s time for some new heroes! Old white men can no longer keep calling all the shots, and society needs to ensure that what was done to Anita Hill back in 1991 does not happen again. The voices of women need to be listened to, and America’s “Me too” movement must be allowed to continue to shift power, practices, and prejudices.

Unlikely heroes are all around us. Women like Kristina Ruehl, Jessica Leeds, Stephanie Kemplin, and Christine Blakey Ford are people whose names need to become as familiar to us as Anita Hill and Monica Lewinsky. For they are this generation’s uncommon heroes. They are women who have not been afraid to stand up and speak up, challenging the status quo, and no longer allowing the voices of women to be silenced.

Is Brett Kavanaugh a bad guy? Who cares? Is he a respectable member of society? Irrelevant! History has revealed that ‘nice’ and ‘respectable’ white men often do bad things. And everyone needs to stop asking about ‘due process’, and insisting that people are innocent until proven guilty. This isn’t a court of law. Today we’re talking about the court of public opinion. And some people still think public opinion matters. Some people today still think that even when not proven in a court of law, some actions and behaviors are unacceptable. And regardless of how slippery that slop is, heroes are willing to go there. And for that, we need to stop condemning them, and ridiculing them, and questioning them; and instead, we need to start thanking them.

No one, at least right now, is saying that Brett Kavanaugh should be thrown in jail. We’re just saying he is not deserving of a life-time seat on the highest court in the land – regardless of his ability to further a political party’s political agenda! He may be a wonderful husband and a father, extremely knowledgeable about law and judicial process, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer that he is a white man who has abused his privilege and been sexually inappropriate with women. And the women who are willing to say so, and deal with the backlash that comes when they do, need to be applauded and thanked, and acknowledged as the heroes that they are.

Old White Men

12 09 2018

Clint.jpgSadly, I’m wondering if this is who I’m becoming!

While I’ve always been a White man, I am becoming an OLD White man.  And I don’t like it!

My ‘youth’ used to be one of my strengths: a draw, an asset, a defining attribute that made me appealing to the Church – an institution in which the average member is well over 60 years old.  But today, because my ‘youth’ is gone, things appear different.

I still have as much energy as I did when I was 28!  I still preach with the same fire as I did when I was 34.  And my work still generates in me the same passion that it did when I was 41.  But at 57, the world around me sees things differently; and I don’t like it!

Now granted, my knees hurt every time I . . . move!  The hair in my beard is far more salt than pepper.  And some days it feels like even oatmeal could give me heartburn.  I am certainly NOT the same guy I was 30 years ago, but that’s not all bad.  I have a little more wisdom than I did when I graduated from seminary; and am far better informed about everything from theology, to world affairs, to psychology. I’ve learned which battles are worth fighting, and which ditches I want to avoid dying in.  And while my ministry will likely always be more about afflicting the comfortable than comforting the afflicted, I have learned to do both.  So there are many good things that come with age.  But right now, as I continue to move into and through the final third of my life, adjusting to being an old White man is not much fun.  And here’s why.

First, old White men tend to think that we have all the answers.  Yes . . . we DO mansplain . . . and all the time!  And we really do think we know everything.  We routinely confuse experience with wisdom, and it would serve us well to start learning the difference.   In fact there are many things that we still need to learn, in spite of our age.  Times change.  People change.  Questions change.  And yes, even answers change!  So while it’s hard to admit that we don’t know it all, its far easier than continuing to pretend that we do!

Second, old White men have been running things for way too long, and it’s hard for us to learn when we need to sit down and give others the opportunity to start setting tomorrow’s agenda.  We can still contribute, when asked; and we can certainly do the things we’ve been gifted and called to do.  But we also need to learn when it’s time to hop in the back seat and let someone else do the driving!  All the metaphors work here: learning to play second string and take a seat on the bench, accepting supporting roles and not always needing to be center stage, and not always needing to be on the front line leading the charge!  It’s time for us to focus on building up and encouraging others, because while letting others take the lead is hard, it’s the only way the next generation will learn how to move forward when we’re gone.

Third, and perhaps most important: as hard as it is to admit, the world has heard just about everything we have to say!  Too often, too many of us continue to speak, but aren’t really saying anything new! As Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Pastors, we’ve been at podiums and in pulpits long enough. As CEOs and CFOs and COOs, our voices have filled corporate board rooms long enough. Our opinions have echoed through classrooms and courtrooms long enough. It’s now time for us to give someone else a chance.  And while we all love the sound of our own voices, other voices, speaking new and different truths, will only be heard when we learn to be quiet!

I know 57 isn’t THAT old.  But it’s old enough! It’s old enough to know that things are changing: that I, am changing.  And the sooner I can accept that, the better off I think we’ll all be.  I will never become one of those old geezers who does little more than play golf every day.  I can only sit by the pool for so long; and I’d go crazy having nothing to look forward to each week but a bowling league or poker night with the guys.  Frankly I can’t imagine ever retiring.  But I need to learn to temper my desire to serve and to do, and especially my desire to take charge and lead.

If I’m not yet an old white guy, I’m well on my way to becoming one! And that’s hard. So bear with me. Don’t put me out to pasture just yet, for I’m still being reconditioned to understand that I don’t have all the answers, that second string players are still an important part of the team, and that there are voices besides my own that need to be heard.  I know I’ m not quite there yet, but I’m on my way.  I promise!  So please, be patient with me.

The Problem with Privilege (Or My Public Penitence!)

11 09 2018

There’s no getting around it.  White privilege leads to White fragility!  And it’s time for us White people to own this reality!

Whether consciously or unconsciously, we White people love the privileges that our skin tone affords us.  It has ‘blessed’ us with wealth, power, and freedoms for which people of color can only hope.  Expanding – or at the very least maintaining – our wealth, upward mobility, and achieving the Great American Dream are the norm for most of White America.  The power is all ours — after all, we made the laws, enforce the laws, and resist changing the laws.  And as far as freedom goes: suffice it to say that young white boys can drive wherever they want, whenever they want, and however they want, without a care in the world.  While there are certainly exceptions, being White in America today means that wealth, power, and freedom are a given.

In her book “White Fragility: Why it’s so hard to talk to White people about racism”, Robin DiAngelo writes “The identities of those sitting at the tables of power in this country have remained remarkably similar: white, male, middle- and upper-class, able bodied.” Since White Europeans first set foot in Jamestown, VA, in 1607, indigenous Native Americans, enslaved Africans, and women of every skin color have all been denied a place at the governing tables of our country, and thereby excluded in ways that old, white me like me cannot even began to understand.  And as a result, we have enjoyed a prosperity that can not be denied.

Now one would think that this privileged prosperity would have strengthened us, and given us a sense of safety and security with regard to our futures.  But this is not the case at all.  In fact the opposite is true.  The problem with privilege is that it has made us fragile!  Our privilege has made us overly sensitive, and grown within us feelings and egos that are ridiculously frail.  We are fearful of the inevitable changes in the demographics of our nation, and we are defensive when we are asked to relinquish control and to share leadership, especially when such activities involve people who are not like us.

So it’s time for us White people to toughen up, especially us White men! We are living in a nation with an overtly racist past; and because everyone of us continues to benefit from this past, every one of us is racist.  We were raised to be racist, and we are raising our children to be racist.  And if we ever want to change this, we must begin by acknowledging this painful reality and then do something about it.

Upon moving moving to Alexandria, VA several years ago, I began running along the Potomac River every Saturday morning: to clear my head, reflect on my week, and become more intentionally mindful of my life and ministry.  But that all ended when one wet October morning, I tore my meniscus.  I went from being a guy who never really thought about his knees, to one who now thinks about them every single day. Two surgeries have failed to correct the problem, and so these days, my Saturday morning runs have become Saturday morning walks.

Recently, while driving home from that walk, I found myself behind a shiny new, black, Mercedes e-class sedan on the beltway.  It was moving well under the 55 mph speed limit, ‘likely because the driver was on her/his phone’ I remember thinking.  Since I was taking the next exit, I moved over into the right lane, and sped up to escape the congested 495 weekend traffic.  Passing the car, I looked over and saw that the driver was a Black woman, NOT on her phone as I had assumed, but simply driving like the rest of us.  And before I knew it, she too began speeding up!

Now because “yes”, I am a somewhat aggressive driver (yet another privilege I enjoy as a white male!), I was not about to be passed.  And – as painful as it is for me to admit – I was certainly not going to be passed by a Black woman!

That is the thought that I need to confess!

It was quick, and fleeting, and laced with as much sexism as colorism; and while I did catch myself, it was too late. My racial bias had already revealed its ugly head, and I was embarrassed. In the split second it took me to recognize the sin, I immediately took my foot off the gas, slowed down, and let the woman drive out ahead of me.  But I was angry with myself, and frustrated that something so wrong, came so naturally; which is precisely why “inherent bias” is as insidious as it is.

So White people, it’s time! It’s time to own these realities. Our privilege has made us fragile; and our inherent color bias is destroying our country as well as our very souls. It’s time for us to toughen up, confess our sin, and be about the work of reconciliation. And this doesn’t mean thinking about skin color less. It means thinking about skin color more, as much as I now think about my knees.  We need to think about it when we drive our cars, and when we see someone pulled over by the cops.  We need to think about it when sit down on the Metro, and when we see people waiting at a bus stop.  We need to think about it when we laugh at something on tv, and when we watch the local news.  We need to think about when we listen to certain songs on the radio, and when hear politicians talking about their agendas if elected.  We need to start thinking about our skin color as much as we’ve forced the non-White, soon to be majority of people in America, to think about their skin color.  And when we do, we need to be mindful of the thoughts that pop into our heads, when we see those who may not look like us, doing these very same things.