Standing up to post-election bullies

Jesus taught us “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-8, 31).

Both of Doug and I have heard personal stories of intensely racist and anti faith incidents after the election. We are preparing ourselves to intervene, to stand up for black and brown folks and those practicing other religions, who are being bullied. But in order to help calm the fear, and take such a radical counter-cultural stance following Jesus, we need to prepare ourselves and be calm ourselves…

Now that the election is over: here are some positive steps you can take if you are overwhelmed or feel afraid yourself:

-Self-Care – practice things that bring you sense of control of your life (cleaning, taking your dog for a walk, jogging, biking, cooking or baking or just being alone… you name it.) Be gentle, kind and forgiving to yourself. Offer yourself loving kindness. I find meditation helpful and if you need guidance and a companion to practice it let me know.

– Volunteer- there are many social justice organizations and groups healing society that need you and your time. Spend a minute looking around in your city or town.

– Give/Donate to a justice organization-this will give you the concrete sense of making changes you wish to see. Many organizations will be happy to receive it.

– Most of all live your values. Trust God. Prepare yourself to intervene and stand up for someone


A moral revival? for Election day

I had a faith renewal experience during this election cycle. I realize that sounds hard to believe. But what happened is, a Rabbi friend of mine invited me to Milwaukee recently, for a “Moral Revival.” I have to admit, the title left me chagrined – I haven’t been to a revival since I left Texas. But as it turned out, it was a “Moral Revival of Values” and the speaker was Rev. Dr. William Barber (who preached at the DNC, seriously… a sermon, at a political convention). Dr. Barber somehow touched on the heart of my faith. First we were inspired by a vision of the common good that God promises in scripture – wellbeing for the poor, healing for the sick, an end to unjust incarceration, and justice (all Jesus’ concerns… a person might be quoting his first sermon in Luke 4.)

We sang songs from the civil rights movements. We heard stories from the suffering community in Milwaukee – a place with the worst incarceration rate in the country for Black men, a place with deep inequity in the education system between suburban white folk and black and brown neighbors in the city. In Wisconsin we know a lot about the “school to prison pipeline”… if a kid can’t read by the second or third grade, they start building another prison cell here. In Wisconsin our prisons have lead in the water, and our (working) prisoners don’t get paid enough to buy a bottle of clean water/week. In Wisconsin the white/black incomes ($50,000/$25,000) parallel the white/black graduation gap (50%). We’re mostly “midwest nice” but it’s a racist place.

My Rabbi friend quoted the Hebrew Bible on these themes. A Muslim woman leader quoted the Quran on these same themes. It moved me to hear these primary concerns of Jesus reflected by our sisters from the Abrahamic religions.

And then Dr. Barber, who is an African American preacher, asked us why… if these are God’s concerns… there are no prophets in the faith community who are calling our communities and our politicians to account for what they talk about and work on.

Why are we Christians letting ourselves be divided:
-into Evangelical, and Pentecostal, and Mainline,
-into Left/Right?
-Conservative/Liberal and Progressive?
-Why are we Christians letting ourselves be divided from Muslims, Jews, and other people of faith? When they suffer for their faith, why aren’t we suffering?

He concluded we have a heart problem – meaning, we lack compassion for the folks suffering these real injuries. He picked up the theme of our heart problem in Ezekiel, when his community was crumbling and no prophet was found, God promised “a new heart… and a new spirit [saying] I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

Dr Barber is the leader, in South Carolina, of a coalition of 93 social justice and faith based organizations who come together on “Moral Mondays” for actions around these simple concerns – care for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the unjustly incarcerated, the environment, immigrant neighbors, racial gaps, etc. He persuaded me that “why” is because we don’t have enough compassion.

I went home, and the next day heard on NPR a story about the working class white folks who support one candidate, at least in part because of the losses in their lives. And I feel broken-hearted today, that we would allow ourselves to be so divided as to lose our compassion for them. Jesus certainly wouldn’t. Remember he frequently “looked with compassion” when he challenged folks he encountered? I look at the news from my hometown Madison, a college town, and a white football fan came to the game wearing alternately a mask of President Obama (and Secretary Clinton) with a noose around his neck held by another white football fan wearing a Trump mask. In all the horrible black/white controversy that followed, no white leaders have seriously confronted this. Very few white leaders have simply grieved what students at our local university must be thinking and feeling as they process the horrible heritage of lynching and the current reality of white silence in the face of such racism, or male silence in the face of such sexism. “We have a heart problem,” said Dr. Barber. The wise Quaker writer Parker Palmer said something very like this, in his recent book, “Healing the Heart of Democracy.”

We have a serious heart problem. We need more love…. for our entire community, and particularly for the poor. So I’m going to vote, today. I hope you will to, if you haven’t already. I’m going to work the polls, and treat voters (and maybe some protestors) with respect and compassion. But I’m also going to start praying that God takes away the hearts of stone among people following Jesus, and gives us his heart, his eyes, and his commitment to challenging unjust people and systems.

I guess the Moral Revival of Values is working.


(You can learn more about Dr. Barber’s multi-state project here:

When Will I Arrive?

As a white person who believes in God’s multi-ethnic kingdom, have you ever found yourself falling into the trap of thinking you’ve arrived at a place of “getting it?” Do you ever think back on how many mistakes you used to make before you became one of the “good guys?” I have. I do. But sometimes we can think we’re one of the good guys, when we’re actually perpetuating harmful ideas and practices.

Let me explain.

Reverend Doctor Brenda Salter-McNeil opened last week’s Christian Community Development conference by confessing the limitations of her own leadership. Dr. Brenda is an African American leader who has spent her life leading the evangelical church in racial reconciliation. She shared a story of visiting young Ferguson activists on the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, and asking them what they thought of the Church. “We hate your misogyny. We hate your hypocrisy. We hate your complacency. And we could care less about your attempts to make yourselves feel better by making your churches more diverse. What we care about is you bringing real change.” Ouch.

The implications of these young activists’ critique were that Dr. Brenda had been complicit, possibly even participatory, in ideas and practices that actively contribute to their marginalization. Yet rather than react defensively, protecting her life-long legacy of leadership, she listened, she began re-examining her assumptions, and is going back to the drawing board.

If Dr. Brenda needs to keep learning from her critics and challenging her method and assumptions, then we do too.

Just because we may have been affirmed by “getting it” in the past—whether that means 20 years ago or 20 minutes ago—doesn’t mean we “get it” today. And the truth? We probably never “got it” at the level that we thought we did. I’m actually convinced that the more we think we get it, the more blind we are to our own faults, and the more dangerously we wield our cultural power as white people. What passed as cross-cultural competence ten years ago doesn’t make the cut today. We need to learn how to put ourselves in places of perpetual learning, especially learning from folks on the margins of cultural power.

Dr. Brenda went to Ferguson and listened. What will we do?

1. Enter into/Go deeper in a cross-cultural relationship: nothing holds a candle to keeping us growing like being in honest relationship with a justice-minded person of color. This could be a young activist, a mentor, or a peer. Forming new relationships is an art beyond the scope of this post, but more than any other thing, our relationships shape who we are. If we want to grow, we need to be in honest friendship with new folks who will speak truth.

2. Diversify your media: one year ago I subscribed to a daily RSS feed from The Root, a black-owned, black-issue-oriented media outlet. Not only has that decision given me more connective material to discuss in relationships with black friends, but has also led me into asking new questions that are changing me.

3. Discover black twitter: tap the benefit of un-censored conversation about race in America. Start with hashtags like #blacklivesmatter or #oscarssowhite and follow a few folks that intrigue you. Beware: you will see vitriolic bigotry in some of the comments…just a part of the learning.

4. Read non-white-male theologians: A Taiwanese friend recently asked if we could begin identifying certain theologians as “white theologians” in the same way we identify “latino theologians” or “native theologians”, so that white doesn’t equal “normal.” I was so grateful for that insight. Start with Grace Ji-Sun Kim, James Cone, Justo González, and Richard Twiss.

Even though she stands upon a mountain of integrity and decades of prophetic leadership, Dr. Brenda had the humility to let go of being overly sure of herself, and as a result Jesus is expanding the scope of her prophetic influence. How much more appropriate is it for us, then, to hold our own cross-cultural competence loosely?

Where do we not “get it” as much as we think we do? And how can we put ourselves in places where we’ll be equipped to answer that question?

Keeping the peace; improving our justice

My heart is breaking today. I just got the news about the deadly shooting of police officers in Dallas. This is completely unacceptable. And, earlier this week, other officers shot two black men who did not deserve to die, in two days. I wish we lived in a culture of peace and safety for all these brothers and sisters. I feel such a sense of loss for these public servants and their families. I hear the voice of a black four year old comforting her mother, who loudly grieves Philando Castile’s violent death. None of this should be happening.

How can we move past this impasse?

Personally, I know, without a doubt, that when I call the policeUnknown-1, they show up and are helpful to me. My personal safety is assured, when I call the police. They are professional, and use good judgement about my safety. This has been true in the past and I believe it will be true in the future.

I also know, that African Americans cannot count on this professional treatment. Because of these repeated incidents of violence against Black suspects, they fear and distrust our police officers – even the ones who might do a great job. ProtectAndServeAmerica has a profound racial inequity problem, with regards to our policing. A lot of black folks feel they cannot depend on being protected, or served, by some police officers.

What can you do, as a white person who cares about justice and wants people of all races – and those who serve as police officers – to be safe, alive and experience well being? Here are some practical steps you can take:

Get to know your own police officers.

-You may have a neighborhood officer – have you met him or her?  It’s better to know people before there are problems where you live.

-Your police department may host events, do you attend and meet the officers?

Educate yourself about policing.

-learn how police officers decide when to use force? what defines excessive force? when do police decide to use deadly force, and how can communities influence the police who serve them?
-what is restorative justice, and how can communities practice it?

-read former Police Chief (and now priest and pastor) David Couper’s blog, improving police.

the President’s task force on 21st Century policing

Start to educate others about policing

-bring in speakers who know more than you do, and are committed to fair and just reforms.

-offer classes and conversations at your church, your campus

-write your legislators about new national standards and why we should hold police accountable for their choices around use of force

Join others working for change in where you live

-figure out who in your town, city or community is advocating for improved policing, and join the conversation. Look on Facebook, read the news, ask your connections.

-contact your local legislators, express your concern – (do this after you’re educated and connected… it’ll help you figure out what the request is.  Do you want to ask for a professional review of policing standards and use of force decisions; what is the accountability process, what is going on in the judicatory.)

Whatever happens, don’t fight (violently).  Don’t freeze.  Do something and let’s make a difference together.



Why are white people silent about racial trauma?

White Silence, part two

I last wrote that white people are silent about racial trauma, because we care but we are inept. To the extent we have become aware, we know we are complicit. Some of us feel ashamed and that freezes us.  We haven’t processed or practiced, what we might say. I still think this is true, about some of us.

However, some white people are silent because they truly don’t care.

I have a black friend, 60 something, who lost a cousin to gun violence. Talking to him today had me in tears. How can we not care? I know sometimes it’s “news” and not a friend. I know we experience compassion fatigue.

Looking for insight, I’m reading a great book in pre-publication called Living in the Tension: The Quest for a Spiritualized Racial Justice by a white blogger named Shelly Tochluk, and I’ll review the advance copy and write about it in more detail when it is available for sale.

Shelly apples on the work of some psychologists who study trauma, and she applies it to racial trauma for insight. Shelly argues that there are four positions people take around racial trauma.

  • the victim… obviously this is not us
  • the perpetrator… so if I didn’t actually shoot the gun, that’s not us either
  • a witness
  • a bystander

Her learning from the psychologists is that bystanders become disassociated from the pain they witness in trauma, and fundamentally do not care.

-bystanders have “strong divisions between self and other… allowing people to feel distance from the racism and damage occurring within the US society.” (Tension, 59). They are disconnected from the beloved community God is creating.

-bystanders are disconnected from themselves, unable to see negative aspects of themselves and projecting them on others: “I am good and they are bad”

-bystanders close down and numb their own feelings

-bystanders obsessively rehearse violence… in films, video games, the news.  Some people see racial violence and barely register. “The normalization of violence and subsequent lack of reactivity, allows a bystander to remain passive and fail to take action to create a safer community for all (p. 61).

I think much of this means that as bystanders, we may become disconnected from our own capacity for empathy.  I asked some white folk if any of this resonated, and they found it familiar. Sometimes they do feel disassociated from other people’s experiences of racism and their racial pain.

What’s the solution? We can choose to move from being a bystander to becoming a witness. We can cultivate compassion.  We can offer our empathy online or in person. We can call our friend and cry. We can join a street protest. We can take action to create a better society…. again, and again, and again.

White silence

I was recently at a major institution in my denomination, and the national headquarters of an evangelical Christian non profit. white-silenceAt both places, people of color were talking about the fact that when they passed white people, most of us were silent. They felt effaced by our silence. Their very existence was ignored. I feel pretty sad about that, because these are our brothers and sisters and neighbors.

So when I find myself inclined to being a silent introvert, I remember: Jesus was really clear that if we can’t love each other, we can’t pretend we love God. Making conversation is really not that hard, and it’s fun to find commonalities and make connections.

But we white people of good intentions are also often silent online. Now I recently read a stinging analysis of white anxiety and hate politics, and it was hard work to respond.

But we are also silent around tragedies.

Why are white people silent around racial trauma?

We read the news. We know black men are incarcerated. Black boys are being shot. Black women are underpaid and overworked. We know more Black and Latino people experience food insecurity, inequity in housing, education and employment.

I think we are silent because, we care…. We are silent because we do care, and we don’t want to say the wrong thing. Maybe I’m saying, we care but we are incompetent? We need a racial education. We need to build skills for cross-cultural and interracial conversations. If we can talk to people of color about other topics, we can express our concern and stand up for the right thing when it is needed.

We care, but we are ashamed.

Sarah Shin first pointed this out to me. Doug and I talked in our book about white guilt. Sarah’s critique was that really we have a bigger problem with white shame. If we feel guilty that we have done something wrong, then the solution is fairly clear – we can make amends and do our best to set the situation straight, and we can ask forgiveness, to begin the process of reconciliation. But guilt and shame are different. When we feel ashamed, we don’t want anyone to know. We hide from ourselves and others. Shame freezes us. To the extent that white people are aware of our privilege, we know we are complicit in systems of racial inequity.

Can you relate to that? Do you ever feel ashamed of being white? This is particularly challenging when other people perceive we need an education and try to educate us about race, justice and our complicity.

It seems to me a lot of our attempts to educate others about race come with urgency – it is urgent – and with anger -and they may heap on more shame. I have to admit I do that. I recognize myself. My son is black and he goes to college in northern Wisconsin where it’s mostly white. Sometimes when he leaves home, I feel afraid that he’ll have another “driving while black” incident. The last time I told some of my church folks about my fear and my prayers for his life and safety, they were not able to listen to me, or say anything. They froze. And I confess I felt angry. So I’m still trying to learn to talk about race in a committed way, but with a great deal of compassion for each person. Every person is a beloved child of God, and has the capacity for great goodness.

I’m coming to believe, what we need is empathy. Gentleness with our own growth process. And let us not forget, empathy for the violence that people of color face daily. We are growing, slowly; they are dying.

If you identify with any of what I’ve written, next time you witness racial violence or trauma, would you consider saying or writing something like “I care, I feel (….sad, or angry, or confused about why this still happens, or whatever your true feeling is), and I’m not sure what to say or do.”

You will be inviting an education. (That may come with kindness or it may come with some strong feelings.) But when people educate us, it is an opportunity to learn about the real situation for people of other races. And you may need to face your shame. Because ultimately, growing our empathy is important enough to lay aside our shame.

Pastor and police officer?

David Couper is a Christian and former police chief who integrated his department and brought in the idea of community policing. Chief CouperAfter leaving active policing, he went on to become an Episcopal priest and he began to blog at Improving Police (where he now has 200,000 readers). We were fascinated to talk with David and learn more about his journey.

Paula:  I have a sense that the unwritten police code says that to challenge the police, is to betray them. How did you become willing to challenge your colleagues — and not only to challenge them, but to challenge them in public?

David:  I found out quite early the way the police subculture operates – critics of the police are first ignored, then if those critics gain some traction, the police start to say bad things about them. In my case it is that I was out of touch and just trying to make money on my recent book – not that my ideas were valid and worth consideration. Thankfully, my audience became not just police, but the community as well, for a great deal of what I propose for reform are steps citizens can take to help their police improve.

I always felt a part of that small, but passionate, group of fellow police officers who pressed for for needed reform. I began my police career in a suburb of Minneapolis and after two years went to the city police department. They hired a hundred of us in a few months. We were more educated people and younger, and we banded together against the subculture … which was getting drunk on duty, beating people up, and other negative behaviors. I knew that things had to change.

Then I came to Madison, and thought this is a better culture but very traditional. But I quickly found my acceptance and survival was not to be in hands of the police department. I looked to the more liberal community and the broader Madison community, to help me along the way, which did in fact happen..

At the same time – this bothered those officers who were resisting change and improvements – I’ve got these street credentials. I was a tactical officer.I taught police defense at the academy and recruits would contact me for advice and ask, what about this, what about that?  I worked on the street and was a highly experienced police officer. I’d worked myself up through the ranks, so they couldn’t say “you don’t know what it’s like.”

Really, the most dangerous time to be a police officer in America was the 1990s, when we started the drug war. We didn’t have protective gear; we didn’t have personal radios; our firearms only held 6 rounds. So when you got the call there was trouble, you couldn’t rely on being backed up. You had to negotiate and de-escalate the situation yourself..

Now it’s changed policing; policing has become more weapons and tactics oriented. We have body armor; semi-automatic firearms that hold 16 rounds… it’s almost like a military operation. This has been going on for 20 years, a slippery slope since 9/11. Our, government has put a lot of money and equipment to the police because the on-going fear of terrorist attacks

That reminds me. The other day, no, really it was the middle of the night, about 3 am, we woke up because our street was full of police lights. All up and down, ten or fifteen cars, and a tank. It turns out some teenagers had taken a SUV on a joyride. Why are we using military equipment on teenagers, in a residential neighborhood?

Well, you know. They’re symbolic terrorists.

What key experiences have you had, to develop your philosophy?

I used to work nights on the tactical squad in Minneapolis – it was called “The Flying Squad.” We reported directly to the #2 man in the police department.. All the time I was pursuing my BA at the University of Minnesota, then there was grad school. I was a major change-point in my life as I began to see the “big picture.” I had political activists in my seminars. In my studies I developed a sense of curiosity: who, where, what’s all this about? What IS the big picture here? Who is the ‘enemy’ in student protests?

When I came to Madison in 1972 staff officers tried to tell me that students are dangerous and I need to stay away from them, not talk to them because “ they’ll try to kill you,” but I felt ​​quite comfortable talking to them and working with them on solutions. I knew what dangerous people were like from my time in Minneapolis. These were not dangerous people.

This conversation with staff officers happened shortly after I became chief in Madison, I went to a student meeting and introduced myself. Again colleagues tried to say I took my life in danger, just going – but I know when I’m in danger, that was not a dangerous situation. I told the I questioned their intelligence sources. I quickly realized that the plan was to keep me away from the community, to get me to buy into the idea that student activists are dangerous.

Instead, I put some of these activists on one of my community relations committees — why wouldn’t we want to do that? Talk to them, get to know them better.

From the start, I had a vision that police protect our Constitutional rights, and when that’s your vision you approach the job a lot differently than police do today.

I can to imagine police as social workers in blue; that they contribute to society, aid people in distress, and so forth.

Some police seem to have that ideal now. There’s that old police motto: “protect and serve.” Still, I notice “protect and serve” being taken off some police cars around the nation – why is that?

I’m not sure.  Is servant leadership bad? Demeaning? I don’t think so.

David, aren’t you the one who integrated the Madison Police Department? How’d you do that?

Yes, when I became chief, there was one minority officer in our ranks, he had been adopted by a white family and was, to many, a “safe” hire. Close your eyes, you couldn’t tell the difference. But of course, being adopted by a white family doesn’t change the color of your skin. Out of about three hundred officers, there were no women in the patrol ranks. According to the new book “Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works” by Jay Newton-Small, women can significantly can change an organization for the better if they have at least 20% representation in the organization or have three women on the organization’s board (two won’t have a signifiant affect). When I took over the department we had seven “police women” who had a college degree, but were not permitted to carry a firearm, nor could they apply for promotion – they only worked with juveniles and were considered “kiddie cops.”

First, we had to get them firearms, train them, let them know they had the same power as male officers, and then tell them they were eligible for promotion. One was interested, she went all the way up to assistant chief — Morlynn Frankey.

When I retired from the department in 1993 there were 10% minority officers, and 25% women – it took twenty years to get those numbers. I would challenge my recruiters with this caveat, “If you don’t present to me a recruit class that was at least a 50% combination of women and minorities I will not give you the go ahead. For many years, Morlynn Frankey led our recruiting and training unit. She made sure this happened..

Most departments, even Madison, cannot attest to having a top management team of at least 20% women. It is needed. Getting unrepresented persons in the ranks is one thing – getting them into the board room is another. Promotions come much slower, so I had to bring people up through the ranks. When the department elected an officers advisory counsel, they elected all white males. So when I went to our first meeting, I said, it’s nice that you guys have all been elected, but what are we going to do about representing other folks in the department – women and minorities? I was able to convince them to go along with the idea of saying let’s having ‘at large’ representation from women and officers of color. And they went along with it. That’s how Chief Noble Wray got his start along with Capt. Cheri Maples went I brought them onto my top management team. We needed to hear their voices and perspectives.
What’s your hope for the future?

I think what I envision will take about a decade. If we keep pressing on to implement the recommendations of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and the “30 Guidelines” of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) on use of force we will have restored trust and support in our nation’s police. And we cannot accept the current state of affairs where only one percent of our nation’s police departments require their incoming officers to hold a bachelor’s degree. This is simply unacceptable and was the recommendation of President Johnson’s Task Force on police over 40 years ago. Education and improvement have to go hand in hand. We must raise the bar on police use of deadly force in America and do it now.

The idea of sanctity of life and raising the standard is in the PERF report and the President’s Task Force takes on the idea that police must be guardians and not warriors. If these ideas prevail during coming years I have great hope for the future. If I see that all I once dreamed of and hoped for the police will not have been realized I will be extremely sad.

How do you reconcile your ministry with your police activism?  24RELIGIONWEB-master675I know being a social critic of a major institution like the police is often quite difficult. How did this unique combination emerge?

My maternal grandmother lived with our family for many years and was very influential in my faith (she was a strong Episcopalian and a women who graduated from college in the late 1800s). She was an activist suffragette and a lot of that took root in me. Social justice was a major part of my life as a police leader and my Christian faith continues to push me in that direction in spite of the pushback I often receive from police who really don’t want to think about changing their training in and use of deadly force. I clearly have heard the cries from women of color in our country — “Stop killing our children.” I think police have a moral responsibility to adequately respond to their cries and I am committed to offer ways in which they can respond and rebuild trust of our nation’s police. This call which arises out of my Christian faith drives me to do this.

Thank you David.  May God bless you in both endeavors.    

Readers, you can find more of David’s prophetic work at his blog, Improving Police, or his newest book, Arrested Development.   If you find yourself in the Lake Country of Wisconsin, he pastors St Peter’s Episcopal Church.