Gone to Waukesha

I need to say goodbye for a season; I’m not sure how long. I was praying and searching for a new church call, and have become an Intentional Interim Pastor…. this is the person who serves a church between settled pastors to help the community be intentional about their transition, and future mission. I wanted to do this kind of ministry partly because the Church (in it’s largest sense, of everybody following Jesus in community) is changing in history-making ways. I believe that Christian communities between settled ministries, are more open to thinking about change, and discerning what God is doing. Then recently, God opened the door for me to serve a very large and lovely Lutheran church in Waukesha county. Wisconsin is a swing state.

Unless you’re from Wisconsin, you may not know this: Dane County (where I live) is the most liberal county in the state. My new church is in Waukesha County – the home of Paul Ryan, Scott Walker and perhaps the most conservative county in the state. Madison (where I live) is multicultural, has enormous race-class divides and rapidly increasing religious diversity… four mosques (two mostly African), several kinds of Hindu temples, a Sikh temple, dozens of Buddhist groups, and six Jewish communities. Waukesha county is 93.3% white, more in the area surrounding my new church. So I’m driving from one world into another. Yet I’m clear that God took me there, to serve these mostly upper middle class white folks, as their temporary Senior Pastor. Which does mean, learning to love more.

What’s also clear, is that there are good kind and gracious people following Jesus, in my new church, and they voted in a variety of ways. (This is not what my Madison friends think.) But we pray, together, for God’s mission, for justice, for social concerns, as well as for the usual ways we humans suffer – sickness, death, unemployment, need. We pray, together, and we sing, together… both historical hymns from northern Europe (I am really growing in my grasp of Scandinavian hymnody) but also contemporary multicultural worship music, accompanied by drums or jazz piano. One parishioner told me she felt uncomfortable – I asked “cultural appropriation?” and she said, maybe. Another told me, he loved the movie shown about the poorest zip code in Wisconsin, in Milwaukee… and he wondered, “why it is, that liberals think conservatives don’t care about poor people?” My new church gives away a lot of money to poor people, in Waukesha county, Milwaukee, El Salvador and Tanzania, among other places.
So I need to take a break, mostly because I’m working very long hours, and commuting two hours a day. But also, because I believe when God puts us in new places, as Christians, and as missionaries, it’s good to learn, and pray, and reflect, before writing and speaking. I wish you all well, and I know that the Holy Spirit is inexorably at work. Look me up on FB if you want to connect.

Direct or Indirect, Part 2: What is the best way to resolve conflict?

Growing up, my parents developed the “I don’t like it” conflict-resolution style for our family of five. When anyone in the family said these 4 magic words, you had to stop the offending behavior. “I don’t like you poking me.” Boom! You had to cease and desist immediately, or face much worse consequences. “I don’t like it” was direct, clear, and left very little room for confusion about what you meant. This worked well for all types of overt, irritating behaviors: unwanted kicking, wrestling, stealing each other’s stuff, entering one another’s rooms uninvited, etc. However, it did not help with interpersonal pain or disappointments. “I don’t like you ignoring me?” “I don’t like you being aloof?” “I don’t like how you break trust with me?” These words never came out of our mouths.

Then I got to college. In InterVarsity, we had direct ways of resolving conflict. We loved to teach Matthew 18: 15-20. There is a proper way and order to go about conflict resolution, and it is directly from Jesus’ mouth after all. This was not one way to resolve conflict, but rather it was THE “biblical model.” Go directly to them first. Be direct. Then involve others second if one-on-one doesn’t work. Go public third. This became my conflict resolution grid, my mandate. The only way to resolve things. Except I was not good at it. In this grid, if you are articulate about your feelings and quick on your feet, you would always win. You could always get me to feel guilty and admit that it was all my fault. (I was ill-equipped to articulate my feelings of pain, confusion, disappointment, regret, shame, anger, etc.) Our “Direct InterVarsity” way of resolving conflict favored certain personality types and was very awkward for others. Don’t worry…I intentionally applied myself and I got better at these difficult, direct conversations. But it took years of hard work.

There are many styles of conflict resolution. Some people freely express lots of emotion, others show almost no emotion at all. Some express anger, others think that expressing anger is a sin. Some are succinct, others want to keep talking for hours. Geography certainly shapes your approach, as you’re your family of origin, and Meyers-Briggs (and other) personality types. And culture shapes how we do conflict, often more than we think. I think of these as different ends of a spectrum. We have preferences as to where sit on the direct/indirect spectrum, for example, but we also can learn to slide up and down depending on your context, audience, etc. I prefer to say “direct/indirect” rather than Asian/white because I have some white friends who are very indirect, and I have some Asian friends who are super direct. I also have had uncomfortably direct conflict resolution with African American friends. I thought I was direct until those experiences. I had to learn to go their direction. That story will wait for another time.

Indirect conflict resolution is also in the Bible, it turns out. Think about Esau and Jacob in Genesis 32. Jacob had previously stolen Esau’s inheritance, which is a pretty wicked thing to do. If anyone needed the Matthew 18 step-by-step process of conflict resolution, these brothers did. But that is not how they reconciled. Jacob sends gifts, God seems to work, they embrace. They are reconciled, more or less, and they did not even mention the earlier egregious sin.

Some of my indirect friends prefer the approach of “I just stop talking and see if you notice.” If you care, you will ask about it. You will draw me out. I have tried using this approach in complicated team settings or with really angry people. It helps me avoid feeling like I have to win the verbal game. I just get quiet. It is a powerful new teaching for me.

I was talking to my new friend, Audrey Chan. She helped me understand “volume” in conflict. She might say to a white friend, “That interaction was a little awkward.” On a scale of 1 to 10, that sounds to my ears like volume level 2 in terms of how much she is bothered. But she means it at a 9. She does not want me to feel embarrassed about what I have done to her, so she understates the impact. I have to learn to turn that volume up for myself. “Doug, she is saying that was a little awkward. That probably means it was VERY awkward for her. Pay attention!”

She also explained there is apologizing for one’s intentions, and then there is apologizing for one’s impact upon another. We white people are much better at apologizing for my intentions, but we are very slow to apologize for our unintended impact upon others. If I didn’t mean to do that to you, then I played no role in it and there is nothing to apologize for.

Wrong! Like Audrey said, I need to pay attention to my intentions and also to my unintended impact on others. And sometimes gift-giving can replace words. Audrey said, “If someone leaves me bag of oranges by my front door, I know they have apologized.”

You and I have a style of resolving conflict. You may never have considered some important questions about that style:
What are the ways that I think that my way of resolving conflict is “normal?”

How do I expect that others will bring up issues with me if I have hurt them? How do I expect that the burden is on them if they have been hurt, versus the onus is on me to ask first?

When was the last time you apologized simply for your impact on someone (even though you had no intention of making them feel that way)?

Do you agree with my assertion that we white people tend to prefer to apologize for our intentions rather than for our unintended impact on people?

Who am I? / Race vs. Ethnicity: what’s the difference?

As I continue on this long (and sometimes bumpy) road of ethnic identity and racial reconciliation, I am continuously amazed at how complex this journey really is. One way it gets even more complicated is the subject of ethnicity and race. A lot of white folks use these terms interchangeably. While they do go together, I have learned they are not the same thing.

My journey involves me owning my privilege and supremacy as a white straight man in the Midwest, and continuing to understand how I benefit from such associations and identifications. Discovering the implications of my racial identity is essential to my ethnic identity journey. Growing up in California and moving to the Midwest has been amazing but difficult too. I have never been made more aware of how different two white populations in the same country can be. When I express my emotions in church and other places, many people who look just like me (i.e. white) don’t know how to respond to my passionate, expressive personality. I feel so awkward. Why are these Midwest people not as excited as I am to talk about feelings? Is it a geographical difference in the United States? Or maybe the ridiculously cold winters in Wisconsin just freeze your emotions? While these are both true, maybe there is something more to it.

Race is defined as a group of people with a common physical feature or features. Makes sense why I benefit from white privilege and white supremacy. Ethnicity, however is a state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. For more, see Ethnicity vs. Race.

“Nana, why doesn’t more of our family speak Spanish?” That question is one that still rips a band-aid off a wound for me. I was doing a research project in college interviewing women in my family and I wanted to know more about the side of my family I knew least about: my Spanish heritage. Most white Americans don’t know much about Spanish culture and I grew up just as naïve. I grew up assuming, “I’m only a quarter Spanish so it doesn’t really matter, right?”

As I grew older, I started to realize my Spanish heritage was not the same as my Scotch-Irish side and that the experience of many of my white friends was not always the same as me. Why did some of my family burn to crisp in the sun and others turn an olive color? And why did some of my family have the last name Perez and others not?

My grandma explained that when her older sister was young, the principal beat her when she spoke Spanish in kindergarten. I cannot say if this is the only reason why my family stopped speaking Spanish, but it undoubtedly played a significant role. I do not pretend to understand what it was like for my Spanish family to enter the United States. Names and language can adapt, enabling me now to assimilate fully into white privilege and supremacy. But I wish my family would have carried on more of the language and the culture, the things that tied my family to Cadiz, Spain. I lost something in the process. We all did.

On a recent podcast, I heard Michelle Higgins talk about how white people in the United States, defined by their Italian or Irish ethnic heritage, also experiencing some discrimination for keeping their cultural norms. These communities quickly realized if they defined themselves by their race, they would no longer be the subject of such abuse and oppression. When our families made that choice, we knit ourselves with white supremacy and abandoned our ethnic identities. We no longer saw ourselves as having an identity in our community.

“We had Mediterranean exclusion acts, we had local civil laws about Irish men and women, about people from Germany. We have had a lot of anti-people laws that were directly connected to ethnicities. There was a time when you were Irish there was no way in the world you were going to marry anybody who was Italian. But somehow because of black and brown skinned people, because of the necessary subjugation of people who looked a certain way and that is including our Asian family members as well. Somehow because of that it became more beneficial, it became more secure to get rid of Italian, Greek, German, Irish, Syrian even, Armenian. It became more beneficial to just call oneself white. And when that happened everyone lost something even the people making the choice. They chose to be color-blind amongst people who shared some piece of the spectrum of their own skin color. But they lost in that because the thing that they were bowing down to was artificial. Power directly connected to race is artificial.”  (Michelle Higgins)

Over the last five years I’ve been on a journey of owning my ethnic background and learning what it actually means to be Spanish and Scotch-Irish. At the same time, I need to own my racial identity as a white man in the United States who has participated in and benefited from the oppression of other ethnic and racial groups. (The history of Spain in the Americas is not one to enter into naively or lightly.)

I don’t think the racial identity of being white by itself is a strong enough basis for us to participate in true reconciliation. Being racially white, there’s not enough be proud of as we enter into the pain we cause our minority sisters and brothers. At the same time, drawing entirely on ethnic identity (saying “I’m not white, but I’m Spanish”) is not the best way to approach conversations with minority sisters and brothers. However, a solid understanding of your own ethnic identity can propel you into dialogue when you need to own your privilege. If more white people could create places to explore the ethnic identity our families may have or have not abandoned, could that enrich our understanding of race, white supremacy, and white privilege? Could it give us the courage to enter into the pain of others?

How to Grow our Compassion

In a way, our hearts are like boats in the sea. Boats attract barnacles, without even trying. If you are a boat in the sea, barnacles are looking for you. Can you remove the barnacles from your boat by getting a long pool cleaner brush and rubbing it alongside the hull while it is docked? No, you have to pull the boat out of the water, get out your putty knife, and get to work. article-2161405-13AC92FE000005DC-310_964x558And what happens if you do not clean off the barnacles? Your boat slows down. Lots of drag. It does not perform up to capacity. Boats are built to glide smoothly through the water.

My friend, Paul Gibson, uses this imagery to describe our hearts as well. Often without knowing it, we pick up barnacles on our hearts. Through media, through experiences, through pain, through other people’s stories, we form lots of opinions about other people. We form snap judgements, often having no idea we have even done this.

Paul recently led a group of us on a “compassion exercise” to help us see ourselves and others more clearly. He handed everyone a blank 3×5 card and a pen. He said, “I am about to show you six photos of six different people. On a scale of 1 to 10, write down how much compassion you feel toward this person.”

First he showed us a very malnourished child from Africa, with a sad expression on his face. He followed with a middle eastern man, then a middle eastern woman. Next was George W. Bush. Then MLK Jr. Last came a Latino man with tattoos all over his face and neck. Each time we had about 5 seconds to look at the photo, and write down our reaction.

In small groups, we shared our responses, our grading system. Everyone graded differently. One guy said, “I don’t like people in authority. I have the least compassion for authority figures.” They next person said the opposite, “I trust authority. I felt the most compassion for them.” A third person added, “I based my compassion on choices. Did they choose this situation, or was it chosen for them. The child did not choose to live in a famine, so I had most compassion on him. But the guy with tats did choose that life, so no compassion on him.” Each of us responded differently, but each of us did respond out of a grid, a system of evaluating who deserves our compassion. People saw their bias. They paid attention to the “barnacles” on their hearts, and felt the need to invite Jesus into their barriers to compassion.

Then we prayed, quoting Hebrews 7:25: “…Jesus lives to make intercession for us.” How is Jesus interceding for each of these people? Listen to what he puts on your heart this time. First we saw people through our lenses and grids. Then we tried to see people through Jesus’ eyes.

It reminds me of God’s work in Peter’s life in Acts. In Acts 10, God wanted to help Peter see the “barnacles” on his heart, what held him back from compabarnaclesssion. For Peter, God went to extraordinary lengths to “pull his boat out of the water” and transform him. God called Peter to take a very long walk to Cornelius’ house. As he walked, Peter became much more aware of his fears, his assumptions, and his partiality toward Roman soldiers.

We too need space to “pull our boat” out of the water, examine ourselves in the safety of God’s love, allowing him to transform cold places into warm places of God’s love for everyone.

On vacation, or, the role of sabbath in racial justice

My spouse and I are going on vacation, driving to the mountains and then on to New Orleans. Now sure, I still like to learn. When we travel, one thing we love when we travel is to check out the cultures, races and history of the place. There are almost always museums, or tours or art installations… in different ways, local folks telling their story. We learn a lot. And we delight in God’s people.

But a sabbath spirit is simply a spirit of curiosity. It’s different time than work time. No plans, no goals… I let myself be amazed by the diversity and beauty that God has created.

Vacation, or weekly sabbath, is a significant broader part of any prophetic journey towards justice. Activism without sabbath eventually leads to burn out, because it demands a lot of our own emotions, efforts and energy without restoring them. When you and I let God lead us into the death and pain and chaos of our world, it will lead to prayer. Prayer is not primarily asking God to fix things. Of course prayer includes that, but primarily it’s a conversation with God, with Jesus, an opening of our lives and ourself to God’s presence and patterns of work in the world. One of God’s patterns is rest.

Sabbath is the Judeo-Christian practice of taking one day a week, to simply rest. It’s rooted in the earliest origin story, that God created the world in six days, and on the seventh day, God rested. Even God… rested, and said His or Her work was good. Jesus kept sabbath, and went to synagogue on the appointed day. So I keep sabbath. Because I’m a pastor, I have to pick another day than Sunday. But I know that on sabbath, my purpose is to do nothing. There is no work. No ‘to do’ lists. I ignore chores. I ignore computers and cell phones and social media. I rest.

I may read or garden or listen to my favorite music. I may go for slow walks and do yoga. I look at clouds and trees and flowers. I sit around. I take naps. I eat dinner and talk with my spouse, but I don’t cook or do dishes afterwards.

On the one hand, sabbath keeping (and vacations) are simply restorative. We human beings are limited and need to take a break. Cross-cultural relationships are hard work and tiring. Race and racism challenge us. But I also believe there are actually spiritual powers and prinicipalities, forces God set up for good, underpin these vast systems of inequity. All this is bigger than we are. My sabbath keeping, my vacations, have actually stretched my capacity to trust that God is still at work, when I am not.

However, even on the topic of race, sabbath has a lot of space for delight. In so many ways God’s creation and human cultures are amazing: the food, the music, the art, the beauty of all God’s people. In sabbath time, or vacation time, I turn away from the pain and brokenness of the world, trusting that God holds it, and I get to rest from my limited attempts to repair and comfort. I turn away, and I turn towards delighting in the world as God has created it.

The mountains and New Orleans, I think, will be the perfect places for that.

Time Out, Part 2: Space to Process Our Conflicting Feelings

Calling a Time Out helps slow down a potentially confusing or hurtful cross cultural conflict. Calling a Time Out also allows us white people (and everyone) to process our jumbled feelings.

Back to the story of me hosting the multiethnic group of Christian leaders. The next day I began with a second “Time Out,” but this one was to process and learn from our various reactions.

I began with, Let’s brainstorm a list of possible feelings that someone might have had last night. When you experience cross cultural conflict, what feelings might people have? (I chose a question that was a step removed, so that they did not have to own their feelings just yet, but rather could say what other people might have been feeling. I thought this would be a little bit safer way to get everyone to enter the conversation.)

You can see from the photo, our list was quite varied. (Forgive my bad handwriting, but I figured you might like to see the real list we created.) Paula pointed out to me that the list is mostly negative feelings, and I reminded her that the context was conflict and misunderstanding.

How is it possible to have several conflicting feelings at the same time? I quoted Mark 9…when the father confessed to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief.” I related to the father. Often I have belief mixed with unbelief. I am a jumbled set of sometimes contradictory feelings. That is okay. I just need space to call a Time Out and process the jumbled mess inside me.

Now, please pick 3 feelings from the list that you personally were experiencing. Or 3 others that did not make our list. Share with your neighbor.

Okay, let’s invite God into the feelings. It is not enough to just name the feelings. We want to interact with God amidst the feelings.

I confessed to them that my 3 instant feelings in the midst of the conflict the previous night were anxiety, awkwardness, and fear that the conversation would morph into a shame or blame dynamic. By naming my fears to myself in the moment, I was able to not be paralyzed by them. I find that we white people are not very good at naming the feelings we are having in the moment. So we tend to analyze the content of what is being said and try to have a rational conversation, maybe we try to win the argument, or get defensive. We are being highly influenced by our feelings, but we tell ourselves that we are just working out the ramifications of the disagreement.

Or if we know better than to be argumentative or defensive, we are silent. We white people seldom have safe places where we can process our multiethnic confusion and where we can bravely name our jumbled and conflicting feelings.

Paula and I have been the kind of white friends where we can process safely and wisely our white experiences (but we are careful not to turn our conversations into racist gripe sessions where we complain about these people and those people).

Try calling a Time Out on yourself the next time you find yourself having a reaction to a news article about racial conflict (or if you find yourself having no emotions at all…numbness or indifference or apathy are equally important to name and invite God into.) Or if you are an extrovert like me, ask a wise friend of whatever ethnicity, Can you be a safe place for me to process cross-cultural confusion from time to time? Is it okay if I call you, and you could play the role of a peer mentor for me? That way they expect you to call and process with them.

I’ve been thinking about when I call the cops

I woke up the other day at 3 am and there was an armed standoff a few houses down, four kids in a jeep, an armored tank, and at least ten police cars, surrounding them. A tank! Teenagers! Come to find out, they were black teenagers who’d borrowed a jeep on a joyride. I felt like I was living in a war zone.

IMG_1992Here’s my usually-peaceful house.  I moved into this integrated neighborhood, because I wanted my kids to grow up around a variety of people. It’s also a mixed income neighborhood, and when I chose it, I thought that would be a great way for them to break open the dominant race-class associations. That worked, for the most part. The neighbor across the street is an African American city councilor and the people in the apartments down the street are of every race, as are the people in houses, up the street.

When we moved here, my white friends were pretty worried about whether we’d be safe. And we have been safe. But stuff happens. The apartment parking lot next door gets really noisy. (Sometimes at 3 am when I want to sleep.) Sometimes I hear domestic fights. Once, a runaway teenager came to my front door. Twice, there were needles in my front yard. And occasionally I’m sitting on the sofa, looking out my front window, and what appears to be a drug deal is going down.

UnknownSo I’ve been thinking about when I call the cops. I want to be a good neighbor. I want us all to be safe. I want to sleep at night. And yet I know that the police in my town have disproportionate responses to some of my neighbors…. an armored tank, for teenagers out on a joyride, because they happen to be black.
I’ve met the police officer on my beat. Officer Mike is African American, and seems to do his job well. I called Officer Mike about the needles, under my fruit trees, and he came and said, “probably diabetes.” I was grateful that Officer Mike knew the difference between heroin needles and medical ones… and that he was willing to take them home.

(One of the really helpful interventions a white person can do in an integrated neighborhood is simply to know your black neighbors and your local police officer.)

But I didn’t call them about the black teenager who rang my doorbell. I asked her where she would be safe, and I drove her to her aunt’s house. I found a her a hoodie because she looked freezing.

When I’m seeing exchanges out the window, a car lingering, a car or pedestrian rushing up, money or things changing hands, I generally call, and I try to be as clear and specific about details as I am able. Who wants drug dealing on your street?

The police are our public servants, and I think they’d like to be our partners in public safety. Sure, some of them have bias to work on. We have some serious injustice in our country. My friend Dave Cooper is all in, on that project. (www.improvingpolice.com) But you and I can do our small part on the public safety project, by thinking carefully, instead of asking the police to take care of our own fears.

When I see people having a chat, hanging out of their car window, I don’t call the police. I drive around the block, to give them space to talk. That’s not good or bad; it’s just different.

When it gets loud, music and shouting, though, I also think that’s mostly cultural differences. I shut my window. Or if it’s a nice day, I wander over there, and say hello to the neighbors.

I work hard to consider – what’s culture? what’s crime? what’s my part? Who wants to live in a war zone? Even if it’s not literally a tank, it may be a metaphorical one, messing up my black neighbors’ lives.