Some difficult things are discussed below… Please care for yourself and don’t read this if it will traumatize you. You can skip to the last paragraph, where I hope you’ll share your voice.
Over the last while, we have gotten to hear a hyper politicized, deeply defensive, version of an ‘archaeology of a white cishet male in power.’ Here’s some of my archaeology. I hope it is less politicized (though it is political) and less defensive. I won’t share everything, but you’ll get the idea.
In high school, despite sometimes having bad grades, I was pretty straight-laced. I was into Christianity. Love the sinner; hate the sin. I don’t think I went to a single thing that could be called a party. But I did go to a lot of ‘youth group’ at a lot of churches. Not because I thought I was being moral or was holier than thou but because there was something that hooked me in the Christianity. When we spent a whole year wrestling with the beatitudes, watching things like Affluenza, I see now that it changed me. When we went to Pine Ridge as a church group, I began to understand things about my own history that are mostly kept hidden.
In college, I had some bad grades still, but alcohol also came onto the scene for me. I was still pretty into Christianity. There were parties. Binge drinking was a regular reality. But we didn’t always drink at parties. Some of us were alcoholics or became them or discovered we were or however you want to put it. I wish I could have seen it like maybe I could now and been a better friend. By senior year, some of us were sick of spending energy recovering from the weekend.
I went to a small Lutheran college. Everybody knew everybody. We looked out for each other as best as we could. We went to chapel and shared the bread and wine with each other, hungover though we sometimes were.
There was sexual violence at my small Lutheran college. We weren’t in any way exempt from rape, sexual assault, and the culture and social and legal and economic structure that supports them. We had scholarship athletes, which somehow seemed connected. Somehow masculinity and athletics are tied up with rape culture. Some of our student athletes were amazing people, who were leaders for us. Most of them were hard working. Some of them were really toxic. I can remember a wrestler groping my friend at a party. It was scary to me how it seemed normal to her. It was even scarier that he wasn’t that different from me. Could I do that? Worse? I wonder now if any of my behavior was received that way.
There were things done to me and that I did that I’d rather not talk about. Embarrassing things; wrong things. Being too drunk was connected to most of them (not an excuse but a warning). Many of the stories I know from that time aren’t mine to tell. I don’t know all the things that went on, but I know many of us, especially women, were vulnerable a lot of the time. And that vulnerability was exploited. Many of us didn’t know what consent really was. Some didn’t care.
But there was an alternate vision. Rape culture wasn’t the totality of culture. We had vocation. If you went to a Lutheran college like I did, you probably heard a lot about vocation. We were called by God our creator, redeemer, and sanctifier (sorry for the religious words) to care for each other. To be holy was to understand that you had a part to play in God’s love and to find it and embody it however you could. Our vocations were lived out in our relationships. Daily life.
Christianity, despite its public allegiance to rape culture, stayed interesting. I remember marveling that we worshiped a crucified God. There was some yeast hidden in here that could spoil the whole loaf. “Christianity” as defined by our culture didn’t seem to fit what I was encountering here. No cheap moralism. No defending our power over others. No hiding inconvenient truth.
There was always hope, at least to me, because God stood outside all our toxic masculinity and drunken coping with leaving our families and facing becoming servants of powers we didn’t want to serve. And yet God was also present in all of it somehow. A healing kind of presence. And a judging kind of presence, judging in a good way, calling for justice.
We always said ‘hi’ to everyone we passed walking anywhere on campus. We always made eye contact. Well, most of the time. It was somehow as if I was meeting Jesus Christ inside all those people. It was as if this was the only holiness I’d ever see – behind their eyes.
I wish I’d done more to explicitly open myself to seeing and hearing some of those people that I said ‘hi’ to every day.
Thanks to excellent faculty and students and campus pastors, I started reading the Bible in a new way – a deeper way – and connecting it to actual people. I started to encounter what it means to be gay to be a woman to not be like me. It was a pretty white place. And pretty middle class. But I learned – at least in my head – that God wasn’t those things.
I’m in power now. A pastor, wearing a collar, getting up in front of everyone to speak for God, with papers with gold seals on my walls. I make a salary and might get to retire and I get health insurance. And a lot of congregations love to have a ‘traditional’ pastor – white cishet male with a nice, young family. Even a single pastor can be threatening – imagine how we would receive Jesus with all his single queerness and “hate your father and mother” talk! We’d just crucify him! His stewardship sermons were really something… Didn’t he know where his bread came from?
A lot of my power comes from dark places. From privilege. From violence. From racism and heterosexism. Economic exploitation. Maybe its enough for me in this time to be aware of that. To begin the process of acknowledging it and learning my own history. I don’t feel ashamed or guilty of who I am.
But I do feel called.
To give voice to the truth, which sets us free from this. And giving the truth voice means giving voice to Christ Jesus, which means giving voice to the crucified, the excluded and erased. The mere existence of survivors means violence is not complete, resurrection is real. Can I give you my voice?
Something like 140 people listen to me preach every other week (when my amazing co-pastor isn’t preaching). What truth about your story do you wish they knew? What truth that you know have you never heard a preacher speak – about God, about sin, about humanity, about healing? Can I give you my voice?