Books

Book Review: Red State Christians

I’ll confess it. When I learned of Angela Denker’s book Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump (Fortress Press, 2019), I felt the tension between interest in a colleague’s work, a commitment to amplifying the voices of other clergywomen, and exhaustion with profiles intended to provoke my compassion for people who, I assume, don’t have much sympathy for LGBTQ+ people like me. Denker is both a pastor ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a journalist who has written for Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post, and Sojourners, and as I hoped, she brings both her theological insights and her journalistic gifts to this wonderful book, which I highly recommend.

Denker traveled the country to interview Christians in communities that we might assume are full of Trump voters, and that was the case in almost all of them. Regional histories and economies play as much a part in their varied motivations as do theological and social commitments. She takes the reader to metroplexes, affluent suburbs, and declining small towns. Denker offers a fair representation of the people she meets, yet throughout, she offers the reader both her counter-arguments to and in some cases her areas of agreement with the points-of-view of conservative Republicans who represent that majority of self-identified evangelical Christians who voted for Trump. Their motivations include Christian Nationalism, attachment to guns, opposition to abortion, and a love for a particular ideal of America. The foundation of racism and White Supremacy is apparent in many of the ideas shared by the people Denker interviews.

Her visit to El Paso is particularly poignant in the wake of the recent Wal-Mart shooting. There the churches are living in the midst of what is sensationalized by the President in speeches and on social media; people cross the border to work and to shop and to visit with family and friends. When we are up close to other human beings, how can we dehumanize them and still call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ? Yet even some of the Hispanic families in El Paso support Trump, and Denker unpacks levels of privilege and internalized racism that illustrate how difficult it will be to reach common ground even on topics that seem obvious (to me) on Christian principles.

I live in a Red community in a Purple state, not too far from one of the communities profiled. The book reminded me that while I sometimes despair that conservative and progressive Christians will ever find common cause in a broad sense, I actually live among and worship with Trump voters, and we do manage to find ways to communicate with one another, because we are already in relationship. It’s not always comfortable, and there are some compromises I can’t make. Denker’s engaging journey around the country encourages me to keep being in relationship and hoping that others will see in me the humanity Denker so aptly portrays in Red State Christians.


I received a complimentary copy from the publisher as part of the launch team. I also recommend the discussion guide available from the publisher, which would be a great resource for congregational read-alongs.

coaching, group coaching

Register for group coaching

Coaching empowers pastors and church leaders to make adaptive changes that transform the ministry of the church.

Group coaching offers the guidance and accompaniment of coaching with the added benefit of collegial connection and support. Starting in September, I will offer two coaching groups for pastors, running until May, 2020. All group sessions will meet on Zoom for 90 minutes. 

Sustaining Clergywomen – group coaching for up to six women serving in local church settings – first Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. (Eastern time) – begins September 4th.

LGBTQIA+ Clergy – group coaching for up to six people serving in any ministry setting – first Thursday of the month at 1 p.m. (Eastern time) – begins September 5th.

Group Coaching Rates: $225 per person for nine monthly group sessions. A payment of $100 is due at registration; the balance of $125 will be due 1/15/20. Follow this link to register

coaching, group coaching

Group Coaching

Group coaching offers the guidance and accompaniment of coaching with the added benefit of collegial connection and support. Starting in September, I will offer two coaching groups for pastors, running until May, 2020. All group sessions will meet on Zoom for 90 minutes. 

Sustaining Clergywomen – group coaching for up to six women serving in local church settings – first Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. (Eastern time) – begins September 4th.

LGBTQIA+ Clergy – group coaching for up to six people serving in any ministry setting – first Thursday of the month at 1 p.m. (Eastern time) – begins September 5th.

Group Coaching Rates: $225 per person for nine monthly group sessions. A payment of $100 is due at registration; the balance of $125 will be due 1/15/20. Follow this link to register

#amwriting, coaching, Ministry

Own Goals

The US Women’s Soccer team finished group play in the Women’s World Cup with a perfect record, and they are scheduled to meet France in the quarterfinals later this week. They are amazing athletes performing at the top of their game, and no one who knows soccer is surprised that they are dominating. Yet there were complaints in the early rounds that the team scored more goals than needed to win and celebrated goals and wins with too much enthusiasm. 

Play smaller, said the critics. Don’t make so much of yourselves. 

The pushback came on as strong as the soccer team. Would we ask this of men? No. In sports, you work hard and play hard, lead with your gifts, and celebrate your victories. 

For me, it’s easier to celebrate others, and that sometimes gets in the way of achieving my own goals. I hesitate to put myself forward at the same time I have no problem applauding and promoting others who do the same kind of work I do, whether it’s writing or coaching. I rely on peer coaching to be sure my goals don’t become an “own goal.” 

One of my goals, after Denial is My Spiritual Practice was published last year, was to work on another book. I’m delighted to tell you that I recently signed a contract with The Pilgrim Press to write for and edit The Words of Her Mouth, a collection of original psalms written, in conversation with scripture, by ten clergywomen and faith leaders who represent a diversity of age, race, orientation, and denominational affiliation. The book is scheduled to be published in 2020. I place a high value on amplifying the voices of other women, and I’m excited to bring this idea I have been nurturing to reality. 

What are your goals in this season?

Who will help you reach them?

When will you stop playing small?

Work hard and play hard.
Lead with your gifts.
Celebrate your victories.


Are you a pastor considering coaching? Beginning in September, I will offer two new coaching groups, running until May, 2020. All group sessions will meet on Zoom. 

Sustaining Clergywomen – group coaching for up to six women serving in local church settings – first Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. (Eastern time).

LGBTQIA+ Clergy – group coaching for up to six people serving in any ministry setting – first Thursday of the month at 1 p.m. (Eastern time).

Group Coaching Rates: $225 per person for nine monthly group sessions. A payment of $100 is due at registration; the balance of $225 will be due 1/15/20. Follow this link to register

Reflectionary

Run. Hide. Fight.

Wednesday dinnertime at the Manse is always catch-as-catch-can, given the back-to-back Handbell Choir rehearsals involving the rest of my family. I was not surprised this week to get a text from my wife, who passed our son in the rehearsal room, asking if I would take the starving 14-year-old out “for something fun to eat.” 

In the car, we talked about the day, and he noted that there had been another school shooting. I had just been reading about the student who died engaging one of the shooters in Colorado, and earlier in the day his mom and I had talked about the response being taught in some schools, to “Run Hide Fight.” As we stood waiting for our order in the short-handed Dairy Queen Grill&Chill, I thought, as I often do now, how vulnerable we all are. 

Over his 6-piece chicken strip basket, our son told me the strategy he had developed with his best friend, based on an elaborately imagined scenario taking place in their school cafeteria. These two 8th-graders have chosen the closest exit, the surest path out of the building, their destination to be a neighborhood close by where they could call for help. 

He also described the instructions students have been given to follow in a classroom. I thought of a mom on Twitter; her child reported the class was told to divide up, leaving the half closer to the windows more vulnerable. And what happens to disabled students in an active shooter scenario?

This is a kid who just a year ago heard our smoke alarm and stopped, dropped, and rolled, without realizing you only do that if you are on fire. I hate that he has had to grow up so fast and that this kind of worst-case scenario planning is his reality, yet I’ll admit I felt relieved that his inclination was to run and get help. And I recognize that even having these thoughts signifies our white privilege.

In a crisis, with fractions of a second to decide what to do, adrenaline fuels our responses. Two young men bravely fought at UNC-Charlotte and at the STEM High School in Colorado. I’m married to a person who runs toward trouble, and despite my limitations of size and power, I have readily inserted myself into situations of physical and emotional violence in the past. I’ve never been tested by the threat of a weapon, however, and do not know how I would react. I admire Wendi Winters, who charged the shooter in the Capital Gazette newsroom and saved her coworkers’ lives. The question is not whether sacrifice to save others can be noble; it is. Yet I worry that we are creating a culture of martyrdom that serves not God’s purposes but human ones, shifting the narrative to the courage of people who should never have had to use it.

We live in a slow-rolling crisis of gun violence in public places that threatens to numb us with its frequency. If we fear talking about it with our family members, our neighbors, our congregants, and even our colleagues, we allow people with pro-gun agendas to frame the narrative. We must find a way to incapacitate their arguments.

Will we run, will we hide, or will we fight? 


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

Community Organizing

What matters to you?

Pastors spend a lot of time talking to people, in meetings, as part of pastoral care, in contexts as serious as a hospital bedside and as casual as a pass-through in the church kitchen. People may bring us a problem to solve, or they may bring us a complaint. In a small congregation, we may have a lot of face-to-face talks with the same people, while in a larger faith community, there may be people we never speak to beyond a brief “hello” in the receiving line after worship. 

For my continuing education time in 2018, I attended NEXT Church’s week-long training in community organizing, which has continued as a distance learning course. The foundational exercise of organizing is the relational meeting, also known as a “one-on-one.” Both in person and via Zoom, my classmates and I have engaged in observed one-on-ones, in order to become more comfortable with being present to another person and eliciting their self-interest. Who are they? What matters in their lives? What might they exert themselves to support or accomplish? Where are the points of connection that might surprise us?

I have a lot of one-on-one conversations in my vocation as a leadership coach for clergy, but those appointments are not relational meetings. I do not bring myself to the conversation in the same way that an organizer would. Even a professional organizer is looking for points of connection with the people they meet; in coaching I am focused on the client’s goals. Perhaps this movement in my life has changed what I expect in a one-on-one conversation, because, despite being an extrovert, I was surprised to find myself uncomfortable in the one-on-ones we practiced. Either I gave too much information about myself, or I could not be present enough as I guarded what I felt might make me vulnerable. In the first Zoom opportunity, my mind went completely blank! As a person who is usually fairly confident in her abilities, I was surprised by how hard I found this exercise. 

When I began to develop a listening campaign – a series of one-on-one conversations with the board members of RevGalBlogPals – I knew I needed to prepare an open-ended question that would start each relational meeting. This was about more than creating a similar opening dynamic for all the meetings; I needed to be sure I knew what I was doing. I crafted an open-ended question, something I do regularly as a coach. In each conversation, I began with a review of the board member’s association, how many years and in what roles. Then I asked, “What matters to you about RevGals?” I was able to see some trends and some variables among the eight women who accepted my invitation to talk. 

My role involves a lot of picky-picky work done alone with my laptop, and it can be hard to step back and take a wider view of the impact RevGalBlogPals makes. I recruit volunteer writers, but I only occasionally do I hear how the prayers and resources they create impact other pastors. I oversee the details of event planning, but agendas and itineraries aren’t the measure of our in-person gatherings. I assemble data for our annual report, but donation numbers and page referrals cannot fully reflect the intangible values that provide a foundation for our work. Over the course of the listening campaign, I picked my head up from the keyboard and heard myself answer the question, too. What matters to me? 

And there, I think, is the rub of community organizing. When you ask other people to tell you what drives them, what they really care about, you need to be prepared to answer the question yourself. As my small group leader said during one of our distance learning sessions, sometimes, maybe always, the work of organizing will disorganize you.

So, what matters to you?

Are you listening to yourself?

Prayer

Oh, no!

Worship began with centering prayer.

“Draw us close,” said the pastor, 
a prayer for what we need, 
for what we ought to want.

“Draw us close.”

And before I could consider what that might mean for me, a little voice called out,
“Oh, no!”

O God, draw us close.
Oh, no!

We want it,
and we do not.

What will happen if we
accept what we ask for
from you, O God?

Oh, yes!
We will never be the same.