Sunday, October 9, 2016


Some people are startled by their own emotional response to this video leaked last week. Others are not surprised at all, but struggle to articulate precisely why this is so offensive and inappropriate. Like racism and privilege, rape culture is in the air we breathe. It's hard to define and dismantle something that is like vapor that permeates our society's expectations and systems.  And why is this the straw that breaks the RNC's back? What about all those other bodies denigrated and disrespected by this campaign and our systemic privilege?

I type today because a few have asked me to explain why this is an example of rape culture, but then I want to give us some hope through action. What can we do, as conscious individuals, to change rape culture and build respect for all human bodies? 

What is rape culture?
If you haven't watched the video yet, please do and hear the soundtrack of smug laughter. This is the sound of entitled, rich, famous, white men relishing the power they feel in remembering and planning violence against another person. Demanding and feeling owed the bodies of others - in the form of touching, kissing, groping, commenting, ranking, and discarding - is an act of violence.

They speak about taking what they want with disregard for the dignity of the other person. It is a game they win or lose by hunting their prey. Donald is so bold as to acknowledge his source of entitlement: when you are this rich and famous, you can do whatever you want.

When they get off the bus, they demand hugs and touching. They create a space in which only they get to feel comfortable and call the shots. Others are lucky to be beautiful or chosen or present, but they will need to stand where Billy and Donald tell them and be ranked on their terms.

You could argue that the actress doesn't have to comply, but of course she does! Her employment depends on her beauty and fun-loving nature. She has been tasked with making sure Donald has a wonderful experience as a guest star on the show. She works in an environment where white men direct and produce, making decisions about who's in and who's out. She wants to be in and, like many women, has learned to navigate that system with compromise and a smile.

We see this in white collar criminal cases, board room meetings, elections, and newscasts. Men are generally revered for their future potential while women are critiqued based on their reputations and their ability to function within systems that let the decision-makers feeling comfortable and powerful.

How do we change the culture?

Let's start with the children. 
  1. Don't let your first comment to a young girl be about her appearance or clothing. Instead, ask her about her interests, passions, and talents. She is so much more than a pretty face.
  2. Don't tell little boys to stop crying. Instead, help them understand and embrace a healthy range of emotions. It's okay to be sad and angry. Model problem solving your feelings in healthy and creative ways. 
  3. Don't tell them who to touch or make them hug people. From an early age, kids should be encouraged to own their own space, getting a sense of what touch and times feel appropriate so they can build confidence about themselves and a respect for other people's bodies. When saying goodbye to other people, I ask my kids to choose between a wave, a high-five, and a hug.
What about the teenagers?
  1. Fathers of Daughters: Please don't do that creepy thing where you threaten potential dates with physical violence if they touch her. Your daughter is not "your little girl" until the moment - poof, bang! - she's a women. Those teenage years are an important opportunity for her sense of self-acceptance and boundaries to develop. Teach her to value and celebrate her body, but also her mind and her spirit. Model a healthy relationship with your own partner. Refrain from making comments about women based solely (or firstly) on their looks. Trust your daughter to make good choices. Her body does not belong to you until you give her permission to belong to someone else. You do not protect her purity or beauty by treating her like property.
  2. Parents of Sons: Don't tell them to "be a man". Teenage boys are still boys. Let them have this formative, in-between season while modeling a multitude of ways to "be a man". It's not only about bucking up or acting tough. Being a man is about being a whole person who loves well, feels things, and takes responsibility for himself. Show him what that looks like.
An Introduction to Rape Culture 101.
  1. Understand Benevolent Sexism. This is any unsolicited or unwelcome advice or feedback about my physical appearance. Need an example? When my husband or friends compliment my body, it's welcome. If a parishioner gives thanks for my legs or a male colleague says, "You're lucky you're married or you'd be in big trouble around here", that's benevolent sexism. Just because you mean it as a compliment, doesn't mean I don't think it's creepy, gross, or distracting from our actual, boundaried relationship. Most adult men unconsciously relate to women through one of four lenses: wife, mistress, mother, or daughter. But guess what? Women shouldn't have to navigate these lenses in every relationship with a man. A doctor might remind a man of his daughter because she's in her thirties, but that lens should not impair his ability to respect her as his doctor. If you are an adult male, you can fight benevolent sexism by recognizing these lenses and choosing to operate outside of them with new, more appropriate boundaries.
  2. Recognize the hypocrisy. We are supposed to be smart but not no-it-alls, pure but not prudes, sexy but not slutty, flirty but not a tease, leaders but not bossy, confident but not shouty, breaking glass ceilings but PTO chair, climbing the ladder but keeping up with the laundry. In every case, we are asked to choose between fragments of whole personhood. We are supposed to excel, but only to a point that will continue to support the social and economic structures that keep us in our place.
  3. Encourage women leading. Across time and culture, studies and stories show that when women do better, everyone does better. When women lead, communities rise up with them. Recognize and thank the women leading in organizations, schools, and political systems that matter to you. Learn more about the issues and policies and challenges they are passionate about. Uncover barriers for women in places they are not yet leading and ask questions about what you find. 
I began this post with a story about rich, white men delusional with power. The men in this video feel entitled to the bodies of others and use their privilege to consume and discard people. It's maddening, but I can't bring myself to end there because there's a better story:

There's a working class, brown man who humbled himself before friends, strangers, and the power of the Empire. God Embodied used his privilege to love the bodies of others, taking only his own for the sake of the world and then giving it away for the sake of life, freedom, and justice.

I am a Christian because of Holy Communion, so I was filled with hope this morning while I spoke the Words of Institution. I stood holding the bread and wine, proclaiming the true presence of Jesus in a meal that celebrates God's commitment to our bodies, our lives, our mutual value, and the justice we continue to seek. If you need this kind of hope - this kind of ending, find the meal this week. It will sustain and delight in your beautiful body.

God is right here with a different story. And, because God's story is louder in my ears and heart than CNN Breaking News, I will always proclaim truth about my body and yours: your body is valuable, not as an object to be consumed, but as a creature in whom God delights; not as a piece of meat to tormented by critique and oppression, but as a whole person who is loved and set free in Jesus; not as an island weathering rape culture alone, but as a member of Christ's body through whom the Spirit breathes and inspires change...

change that is inconvenient for some, but necessary for justice.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

tenderness and power.

Last week I launched my girls into preschool and put Jasper on a bus to Kindergarten. It's an emotional time for any parent, the releasing of your children to new experiences and people and environments. As a working mother, I can't help but wonder what I have missed in these first five and a half years of parenthood. But as a potty training warrior, I can't help but be glad they'll be peeing on someone else today.

The night before Jasper started Kindergarten, we talked about superpowers. Everybody has one. There is strength and creativity and kindness in every single person you'll meet at school. Sometimes it's hidden and sometimes it's obvious. And guess what? I think one of your superpowers is discovering other people's superpowers.

It's true. He's wise and observant. He notices and names things I cannot see. I sent him off with this encouragement so that he'd be curious about his classmates, always seeking to learn more about them until he finds something wonderful and powerful in these new peers.

Perhaps it's crazy to think I can raise a deeply curious child in today's world. The media presents a list of despairing, polarized, terror-filled, angry, and fearful headlines that paralyze me with every page turn and click. Nothing inquisitive about their tone or volume!  I feel small in the face of this declarative reporting and I am left to wonder what kind of world is waiting for my curious little ones:

Gretchen Carlson's sexual harassment suit paid her exactly half of what Fox paid Roger Ailes to leave. Brock Turner was released from jail early for good behavior and Stanford has not yet expelled him. Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. Again. College campuses continue teaching first year students "how not to get raped" instead of teaching them "don't rape". Iran and Saudi Arabia flex tensions as the pilgrimage to Mecca begins. Elementary students are learning how to hide quietly in case men with guns enter their schools. Our legislators are divided and stalling about funding urgently needed to fight the Zika virus, proof that they do not honor the welfare of the American woman's uterus. American Indians are united in historic proportions at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota as protectors of water and life, but a majority of media outlets show little interest in this human, creation-wide cause.

Lord, have mercy.

And then there is Jacob Wetterling. He has been found, but not as we have hoped. The myth of closure is alive and well in Minnesota today. The Wetterling family invited all of us into the search 27 years ago and yesterday Patty Wetterling spoke with such eloquent strength, inviting all of us into the grief of this moment. She gave us permission to be deeply sad and sorry, but also to be alive in the work still before us. There is more to do: more children to find, more families to comfort, more perseverance to mold, more porch lights to leave burning brightly.

Jasper and Patty have met me in the tenderness of this season - in the midst of all that is evil, unfinished, and hard to bear alone - with the promise of power. Everybody has one, you know. And the best way to discover (or rediscover) your superpower is to get on the bus and show up together where someone might be curious enough to notice and name yours.

Let's see and be seen, friends.
We are found in moving our bodies and souls together.
And perhaps our collective tenderness will reveal new superpowers.

May the bus show up when and where you need a ride,
  guiding you into new courage and adventure.
May the light you were gifted in baptism shine brightly,
   guiding others into hope and warming your own heart.
May the power of the Holy Spirit rumble in your breath and bones,
  guiding you into great purpose and curiosity for those who need power, too.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

what do you mean, "welcome"?

I drove all over town running errands on Thursday and passed at least a dozen church buildings of all different sizes and denominations that shared something in common: their marquee or banner out front declared, "All are Welcome". I struggle with this tagline for all kinds of reasons and here are just a few...

  1. I should hope so. When our congregations feel the need to explain that everyone is welcome, it reminds me that our history, theologies, and communities have done a poor job embodying this basic truth in all kinds of destructive and disappointing ways for which we struggle to fully acknowledge and seek forgiveness. I think this statement is meant to be innocent and friendly, but can also remind our estranged and unfamiliar neighbors of our great hypocrisy throughout history. It can fall a little short of what's necessary to redeem our reputation for hospitality.
  2. Really? Everybody? To be true, this assumes we have interpreters at worship services, elevators and ramps for accessibility, trama-trained staff and leaders, gender non-specific bathroom facilities, braille bulletins or hymnals, and much more. But we don't have most of these things - at least my congregation does not. There are several subsections of the population who know what it's like to show up only to feel unsafe, undignified, and unexpected. Perhaps that marquee feels like salt on a wound that's been festering for awhile now. And perhaps we hope they don't show up because failing to welcome them well really kills morale and the easy going nature of this one-way slogan. We'd prefer an easy welcome that doesn't require our failure or shame.
  3. Sweet assimilation. What, exactly, are welcoming them into? Our ways and traditions? Our worship style and membership protocol? Our budgetary needs and priorities? Um, no thanks. That sounds just as rigid and painful as getting on board with a new company health benefits plan. We are so quick to say folks are welcome, but our motives are mixed and completely unclear to passersby. What if I bring more need than benefit? What if I have ideas and gifts that cause too much change or discomfort for the core? If my welcome is contingent upon adaptation into this ecosystem, are you willing to be changed by me, too?
I searched for images online using the phrase, "All are Welcome" and found this arrow piercing a heart. It has been become a symbol used by communities all over Europe and Asia to show unambiguous welcome to Syrian refugees seeking a new beginning. I was taken by it's simple clarity: the arrow of welcome cuts to the very center of the heart. It seems the heart has been changed by the arrow - it's pain and plight and courage - and it is welcome in the very soul of this new place where it will cause discomfort and change while forming an entirely new shape.

If our church is to declare welcome to our neighbors and the world in the name of Jesus, then it is like this heart which says, "Come unto me. Pierce me with all of who you are so that we can transform and become more together. For you belong just as much as anyone else and we, of course, will make room for you in the middle of this great love."

Since my marquee sign can't hold three sentences, the message is often and tragically stunted into fragments. But I mean it with my whole life and I am not afraid of failing miserably at this pierced welcome while writing, singing, and declaring it from the pulpit and street alike.

How do you understand the phrase, "All are Welcome"?
What, exactly, is this catchy slogan inviting people into 
and do they understand the invitation as we intend it?

Saturday, July 9, 2016


There are words and chants and articles and feelings flying around this week in America and in my community here in Minnesota. Police shot black men for rumors of weapons that, by video accounts, appear to be still in pockets. Snipers shot police officers for a system that cannot be cured with bullets. Tensions are high. Emotions are sharp and pointy and fragile.

The vigils and protests in my neck of the woods have been largely peaceful and unifying. People are standing together to cry and listen and prophecy. A 32 year old St. Paul man is being remembered for his gifts, strengths, and relationships. His life is being called worthy, but only after he was shot dead in his car while a four year old girl watched from the backseat. Lord, have mercy. We are failing her and her whole generation.

With every black life lost to police violence and racial injustice, a few are hard at work finding fault with the victim. Criminal records. Domestic abuse. Gang affiliation. Addiction. Unpaid parking tickets. Down to the acne and hangnails!  When specks and logs are discovered, they are paraded as justifiable cause, as proof that his behavior and identity were unworthy of life and dignity, respect, and basic human rights. (All while we reported rapist Brock Turner's swim times, charm, and Olympic potential I might add.) This pattern is fuel for a system and society hell bent on making sure white people like me can sleep at night. Those articles and arguments try to remind me of a great and permeating lie that has powered the quiet hum of my ease and privilege for nearly 35 years:

Some people have to earn their share of respect, belonging, and worthiness.
Some people can lose their share of respect, belonging, and worthiness.
And according to this system you, Meta, are white enough to sit on that jury.

I have the luxury of hearing what someone has done or left undone and then feeling better about whether or not they should have lived. I get to go home to my mostly white neighborhood where late night bangs are probably fireworks. I can turn it all off when I need a break because I'm too tired or sad. I get to, as Jesse Williams would say, go make myself a sandwich.

While abiding in this pattern is convenient and comfortable, it is not remotely Christian. As a preacher, I confess day in and day out that our identity and value are not aligned with what we do or who we are, but whose we are. Philando isn't more deserving of our grief because he was good at his job or well liked by kids or about to win a Nobel Prize, nor is he less worthy if it turns out he didn't have a conceal permit or jaywalked on occasion or was building a fricking bomb in his basement. Philando was and is and will forever be a beloved child of God.  If I tell my children that there is nothing they can do to make God love them any more or any less, then it is most certainly also true for Philando and black lives everywhere.

Being made in God's image and redeemed in Christ Jesus are not exclusive invitations or conditional offers. This is the gospel. It is untamed and Spirit-filled and a holy gift to the black community. But merely knowing that is not enough: white Christians are called to speak and embody this news even in the face of a system that does not encourage or reward such movement. (Poor Meta. So used to encouragement and rewards.)

I will read about the men who have died this week - the black lives and the blue lives, their gifts and faults alike - and then will remember that they belong to God. They are worthy of love, belonging, justice, and life abundant regardless of what they've done or left undone.

We're decades - centuries - overdue, friends. It's high time to put our sandwiches down. This is a call to excuse ourselves from the jury and instead stand accused of our destructive ignorance and perversion of the gospel. Can we trust that grace wide enough for our own specks and logs? Can we listen and feel until we are disrupted and outraged about death where life matters and about conditional worth where Christ's body belongs?

Many of us will hear the story of the Good Samaritan in worship tomorrow. Forget the moralistic reminder about lending a hand and instead listen from the ditch. Watch passersby wave and promise you that Of Course All Lives Matter while you're lying there vulnerable and bleeding out - let it break you into pieces because their generalizing and brief glances are not enough. Wait there in the dust with death and injustice, wondering what or who marks you worthy of life. You might be surprised by the one who shows up and carries you back into belonging.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

just listen.

This weekend I read this article about a college campus rapist, caught in the brutal act and chased down by eye witnesses. What he did appalls me. What the woman endured breaks me. What the judge ruled offends me. Unfortunately, none of this is new. Victims are assaulted and then retramatized during a medical exam or the pointed questions they must answer for police and lawyers.

The judge gave a ridiculously lenient sentence
because he thought anything longer than six months and probation would have a "severe impact" on the young, champion swimmer's future.

This is why victims decide to hold it in, never reporting or recanting quickly. This is why victims fatigue during lengthy trials, forced to react, explain, and defend until they convince themselves that they are all alone or completely mad. This is why victims don't tell their stories; because no one wants to hear how rape feels in long form. They just want sentence fragments from the stand and a quivering lip for effect.

So imagine my surprise and awe when I read the victim's own full-length statement, which she read aloud in the courtroom to the judge and her assailant right after his stingy verdict was declared.

Before you read it, allow me to tell you why I want you to read it. 

Sure, it is long. It will cause emotional fatigue because you will feel betrayed by our justice system. It will cause you physical fatigue because she does not let you forget, for a moment, that she was completely violated and does not know her body as her own anymore. But these are not good reasons to shy away.

You should read it because it is rare for a victim to speak her or his whole piece without direction, interruption, or distortion. I can't think of a better way to begin challenging our system or inviting courage than by listening to victims and survivors until they are done speaking. You should read it because entering into the fullness of her reality helps restore her power and reclaim her identity as a human being. She has been alone and accused in strange ways that deserve closure; when you decide to listen to her story, you call her back into belonging.

I write this because I know it to be true. I was drugged and brutally raped by acquaintances when I was eighteen years old. My memories from that night were fuzzy and missing most of the puzzle pieces.  I couldn't completely articulate what had happened for several months, though sleepless and terrified in the meantime. I was further traumatized by the questions I had to answer in the first hours and days after the assault: Had I been leading them on and flirting with them? Did I have a boyfriend? Had I ever cheated on a boyfriend? Did I drink? Was I certain I had not taken my own clothes off? Had I ever taken drugs? Did I choose to take the roofie, thinking it was something more recreational? Had I been to his house before? 

The medical examiner caused great confusion about my virginity when she asked, "Were you a virgin before last night?" implying that it was now gone and I could not give it freely in the future.

My (former) OB/GYN listened intently to my abbreviated version when I mustered the courage at my annual appointment and replied, "I have a lot of young, college aged patients. Any advice you have for them on how to avoid this kind of thing?"

All of these subversive accusations worked together on my body, mind, and spirit to make one thing very clear: Your story is inconsequential. Instead, we care about your regret, your fear, and how you plan to make better choices in the future. I did not report. I buried this fresh, raw wound while packing boxes for college, desperate to be anything other than The Rape Girl at freshman orientation.

I was quiet and anxious and private and a mess for two long years before I finally trusted that this was not my shame. Over the course of the last 14 years I have told my story many times: in private counseling and a support group, then to my peers at a wellness event when I was a student at St. Olaf, to friends and boyfriends, to criminal justice classes at a community college, and to a congregation's call committee. With each telling, those horrible questions that once trapped me fade away. I look into the faces of patient people, a little squirmy but willing to ache and learn with me. I speak until I am done speaking so that everything true and hard becomes a little lighter to carry around. There are usually tears and hugs when they have listened well. Someone in the room has felt this kind of pain or perhaps even caused it. When they engage my story, I am graphed into theirs and everyone finds new power and belonging.

I did not have the endurance for a trial or the courage to face a judge and attacker the moment a trial ended, but the Stanford victim does. She speaks with the strong words many survivors wish we'd had in the face of fresh injustice. I am grateful for and in awe of this fierce and vulnerable 23 year old.  So read her unbridled report of abuse and pain. Put away your questions and simply listen to a woman whose truth is worthy of being seen and heard. It will restore all kinds of power and belonging that lead to justice and wholeness.

With great gratitude, Meta