#FuckThisShit Advent Devotional

I want to send a soul shout-out to the pastors who are writing the #FuckThisShit Advent devotional, a resource I became aware of a couple of weeks ago on Twitter.

The editors of this project are
Jason Chestnut @crazypastor
Tuhina Verma Rasche @TVRasche
The writers are,
Alisha L.Gordon
Matthew David Morris @MattMorris
and A’Driane Nieves
and lots of guest artists contributing posts.
And there is a related hashtag of

As you can imagine, the creators of this resource are taking a lot of heat for the NAUGHTY LANGUAGE being used. Because, as you know, religious leaders should never be shocking or offensive in communicating the Gospel. Obscenity should never be used to express the obscenities committed by the powerful agains the vulnerable. Well-behaved clergy should pray with our eyes to the skies in ways that don’t really, actually disrupt the social order of empire. When our prophets are murdered, clergy should stand by with hands respectfully folded while history and empire sanitizes and censors our prophets and weaponizes them against their original communities of empowerment.
Fuck that shit.

Readers of this blog know that it in addition to being a place to find footwear recommendations, has been a ten year study in clergy image and changing clergy archetypes. I have been very interested in the use of cussing by mainstream religious leaders on social media for some time, and have begun to swear more freely in my own writings. I am grateful to the #FuckThisShit team for leading the way in using profanity to stir up attention to the demands of the God with whom we profess to be in covenant.

I use profanity as a sound effect, a percussion section in a musical piece that I am singing about the reality in which I find myself with all of you.
I use profanity as a pinch of strong pepper thrown into the sizzling skillet of whatever dish I am cooking up that I dare not serve bland out of respect for the people I am trying to feed.
People who don’t like pepper can get fed at another table.

I applaud and support my colleagues Jason, Tuhina, Matthew, A’Driane, and all their guest artists for modeling the new clergy voice I feel is desperately needed in this time of complacency and empty gestures of fleeting outrage.
I am fed from their sizzling skillets. The writing is beautiful.

Lord, for these loving voices raised in wholly appropriate terms for these times and your far-too lazy and comfortable Church, we give thanks.
For the leaders who patiently respond to angry emails protesting profane language from people who remain silent and inactive about profane public policy, we give thanks.
For those who object to “thoughts and prayers” as a sufficient response to horrors unleashed on God’s people, we lifg up our thanks and praise.

Why I Love Twitter, Even The Trolls

Just a reflection on a day, darlings.

As you know if you’ve been reading me for any chunk of time, I am extremely interested in clergy persona, public image, and how social media is evolving those things. Actually, scrap the passive voice: we clergy are using social media to challenge and change laypeople’s assumptions and expectations about what clergy look and sound like. Some of us are doing it intentionally, some are doing it unconsciously. Whatever the case, it is happening. We are demolishing old archetypes and making way for a ministry that is not just authentic but more soulfully engaged than the past ever allowed us to be.

On Facebook, I see women ministers using Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination as an opportunity to reflect on the stained glass ceiling, and to share stories of the ways we have been treated as women of the cloth. Female colleagues and I had fun on Facebook recently remembering all the times in our church buildings when we have been presumed to be the secretary, the “assistant,” or in some other way not the “real” minister, who must be male. Facebook is a place for conversation among friends, or at least a large circle of fond acquaintances. I have one FB account for professional contacts and local ministry so that I never have to undergo the hurtful “unfriending” process recommended by
Greater Minds than mine — and I keep one messy, crowded FB account that has friends on it from high school, theatre, random buddies from every of the nine states I’ve resided in, a bunch of colleagues and family.

And then there’s Twitter!

Twitter is a much more rough and tumble platform than Facebook (which can get pretty hairy, as you have no doubt learned). Twitter is where the revolution happens. It is where news gets out faster than mainstream media can report it, where zingers are the lingua franca, and where we try, God help us, to share important thoughts and information 140 characters at a time.

It is also where your front door is wide open to anyone with an opinion and the means to dictate or type it, and it generates a lot of heat by virtue of a tweet’s brevity and speed.

If Facebook is your own salon, where you can moderate a conversation (we’ve all gotten much better, I think, at understanding the best and worst of how to use Facebook), Twitter is a gallop across the landscape of all the most compelling and controversial news of the day, where you are Tweeting while holding onto your horse and shouting thoughts to the other riders. It’s wonderful when you get to ride along with a group of people who are heading toward the same destination, but rough when you ride into a hostile gang who tries to shoot you off your horse.

Sometimes, of course, even folks who are heading to the same distant country exchange shots.

What I have observed is that the rise of Trump has attracted a huge population of American neo-Nazis, racists and misogynists who tweet anonymously and target feminists, social justice activists and anyone with an opinion that challenges white male supremacy. These guys are needy, violent and pornographic. Researchers are learning that in real life, they are often not openly hateful and bigoted, although many are socially inept, angry and lonely characters. What is very clear is that they empower each other and specialize in highly sexualized harassment. If you don’t know about internet trolling, you need to. It is an important, and I think compulsive, phenomenon and can create a great deal of stress for those who are on the receiving end of it (and probably in some way stressful for those who do it).

While I often doubt that my Tweeting is accomplishing very much by way of disseminating helpful information or news, I never doubt that it is extremely valuable as a study in human nature and the zeitgeist. I think clergy have to be willing to excavate the human mind and heart and look it in the eye, even when it reveals itself to be offensive and obscene. One of my complaints about traditional clergy archetypes and contemporary spirituality is that it is naive, credulous, and unrealistic. If we are to make a difference in the real world, we must immerse ourselves in the gritty and the ugly side of human nature, and not just through books, movies or the occasional visit to a rough neighborhood. I believe we have got to get tougher and develop more of a sense of humor, resilience and perspective about the perversity of human nature.

I love Twitter (and even the trolls) because it pops me out of my idealistic and spiritual bubble where people in covenanted community are sincerely working to love their neighbor and to do something worthwhile with their thoughts and deeds. I appreciate the stark reminder that there is a lot of willful ignorance, prejudice and judgment that many people are holding onto with passionate commitment because it is too inconvenient or costly to learn and change, and when I see the anonymity of the account I am aware that this venom-spewing bigot might be the alter ego of that nice lady from your Zumba class. Too many clergy do not want to turn over the rock of pleasant appearances to see what wiggly worms lie beneath, but we must! We have to turn over the rock, look at the creepy crawly things and factor them into what we know and claim about God and human beings.

I am still experimenting with my response to trolls. Sometimes I respond with LOUD SARCASM. Most of the time I block them. Sometimes I fight with them. Sometimes I stay in conversation with them if I have the energy to tolerate the initial insults, and we work our way to something interesting and kind of illuminating. Sometimes I report them to Twitter, but Twitter doesn’t care.

It can get intense sometimes (although less and less so as the years go by and I see the benefits of the medium), but having access to this melee has enriched my learning, allowed me to center black perspectives and voices in my daily timeline, provided access to a fantastic wealth of resources on anti-racism and other subjects, improved my preaching, and allowed me to both witness to and be part of a generation of clergy who are transforming archetypes in real time.

Do Not Delete Yourself

A clergywoman received a letter or e-mail from someone affiliated with her congregation that provided quotes from that minister’s Facebook page that the letter writer found unbecoming of a minister, and so this minister went and deleted all of that content.

I’m sure she isn’t the only one who has had this happen to her and who made that same decision. It’s very sad.

Let’s call out that kind of fine-tooth combing of any of our writings for what it is:
obsessive behavior. Internet stalking, even.

No one healthy or fair does that.

Some folks may fall down a rabbit hole of following their minister’s writings or postings, sure. But healthy people do this out of curiosity and the desire to better understand or know someone who fascinates and influences them and they do not carry a yellow highlighter along the way, looking for offense and feeling entitled to present their findings.

I hope none of you will feel compelled to edit and delete your honest observations because someone bullies you into it.

We all say things we regret, and it may also be that we take time to develop our own social media best practices and make some mistakes along that way. So what? Are you a criminal? Are you a terrible person? Probably not. And if you are, that will be discovered by other means than stalking your Facebook page.

Being yourself in all your interesting complexity is not objectionable. Also, lest you forget, not everyone needs to like you. It’s part of this generation of ministers’ task to pop the balloon of old, outmoded clergy archetypes.

If confronted with evidence of your failure to live into someone’s Pastor Fantasy via a roster of your objectionable remarks or photographs, you might direct people to focus their laser atttention and their red pen on a more worthy set of writings than your Facebook page — say, Scripture, or the collected works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, or the journals of May Sarton. Surely little ole you isn’t worthy of all that energy and study. Or perhaps this ultra fan might consider doing a very close reading of all your sermons: surely there’s time better spent mining the gold there than examining your Facebook posts through a microscope.

I am not surprised that this happened to a woman minister and by a woman antagonist. Quite seriously, women tone-policing and emotionally controlling other women is the great underreported abuse in the Church. There are still many women in religious communities who expect women to lift their pinky every time they dare venture an opinion, and pass a plate of brownies and praise the name of Jesus before making an observation. If you challenge them, they will attack. This is a generational form of sexism that plenty of women internalize — even women clergy.

It makes me grateful every day that I’m a Unitarian Universalist. We’ve done a lot of work confronting sexism and misogyny and our communities have alwasy encouraged and supported this strong woman. Thanking God for them tonight.

Ministerial Personae and Social Media Management

This is sort of a companion piece to my previous post.

Let me start with this, dearests: We can be kind of martyrs, am I right? We love to talk about how heavy the burden of ministry is, how deep the demands, how many kinds of functions we are expected to fill, and all of them dazzlingly well, and at all hours of every day and night. We delight in our ritual of Saturday night sermon moaning. We cry heavenward about sacrificed holiday and vacations and days off interrupted not by life and death crises, but prosaic concerns, petty feuds or sudden staff resignations.

Remember Dolly Parton’s line in “Steel Magnolias?” “Get off the cross, we need the wood!”

That’s just our deal, and no big deal. There is one thing that I feel compelled to address that is part and parcel of our Ministerial Martyrdom that is connected to the new era social media, and that is clergy tendency to isolate with other clergy when they’re under duress or feel under siege for their use of social media or, in my terms, having gotten caught being themselves.

Listen to your old Auntie PeaceBang who is a parish minister of almost 20 years and a social media pioneer who knows what she’s talking about: When trouble comes, move in closer to your congregation, not farther away! This isn’t a bad general rule for ministry, but it really applies in this particular circumstance, and here’s why. Social media is a new technology that has demolished boundaries of time, space and personae. None of us are experts on what it all ultimately means for relationships and specifically for the Church as we know it (or knew it).

You must guide, lead, be in conversation about social media, remain open and curious about people’s opinions of your social media presence and above all, never live in fear of getting caught being yourself. The fretting is simply a sign that people are confused about change. Help them process what’s going on. Lift the veil on the ancient secret: ERMAGERD, ministers are just people!

In all seriousness, if we had been doing this crucial work with lay pepole all along, how many victims of repressed, compartmentalized religious leaders would have been spared sexual misconduct, addiction, depression, molestation of children? Seize the long overdue moment, colleagues.

For better of for worse, social media allows for a broad sharing of the kind of content that humans have never before had the means to share. We are still figuring out what it all means and what we want to use it for. Griping about people posting pictures of food is useless and shallow. Griping about the evils of “selfies” is ridiculous. Vanity and egocentrism is nothing new under the sun. Technology has simply made our vanity easier to expose and share, and many people post selfies to share the small joys of their day with others. Get over it (As a single woman who has traveled the world by myself for decades, I can tell you that the urge to make a photographic record of oneself in an interesting place to save as a memento and perhaps share with others is NOT a new invention).

Help welcome our communities to reality. Be yourself and be non-defensive. Of course you should set your privacy settings as you like to share content mindfully. Speaking for myself, I knew I could never track pastoral relationships and local ministry issues in one Facebook account with everyone else, so I have two. One is a melee of family members, old high school and college buddies, theatre friends from the nine different states I have lived in, kitty videos, a certain amount of collegial conversation, and stuff I wouldn’t want to inflict on my parishioners — since I tend to share a lot of theatre, party, conference, travel and local social event photos with friends by uploading them to my Page.

I’m not hiding anything, and I would never post anything that I would dread having a church member see, nor should you. My second FB account is just for ministry and just local, so I can pop on there and scan newsfeed for what’s going on with my gang here in eastern MA. I can see events and promote them. It’s neat and lovely and I can follow former parishioners’ news, too, which I love.

So I want to go on record as saying that I think the trend of “unfriending” parishioners from Facebook upon leaving a ministry setting is an insulting disgrace to the office of pastor.

In case that isn’t clear enough, let me say that makes me furious that clergy haven’t thought this through carefully enough to spare our beloved communities this special snowflake baloney that the Great Unfriending perpetuates when we leave a ministry setting. Figure it out. Set privacy settings. Learn how to deal with boundaries. Get over ourselves!

If we and or our predecessors or successors can’t all deal with an occasional Facebook greeting or expression of compassion or happy birthday between humans beings who shared congregational life together, WHAT IS WRONG WITH US!?? This hard-core no-contact territorial nonsense is absolutely neurotic and obviously the overbearing policy born of few offenders. If ministers haven’t learned how to say, “It’s lovely to hear from you and I’m sorry I can’t conduct your husband’s funeral but I loved him well and I know you will be in very good hands with your new pastor,” then they’re remiss in their training.

In my experience, unprofessional hacks won’t be stopped from interfering with ministries and violating boundaries no matter how many safeties and guidelines their colleagues put into place. They’re narcissists and don’t think the rules apply to them.

Ministers who defend their unfriending by claiming that they don’t have time to respond to everyone who wants to keep in touch with them, here’s my word of advice: DON’T.

Do you change your e-mail, phone number and identity each time you move to a new ministry setting? Do you make your new address a well-guarded secret? Of course not. People who want to get in touch with you will find a way to do that. Unfriending people on Facebook is a slap in the face and a mean, rejecting practice we should stop encouraging.

Learn how the platforms work. Here’s a FB tip: Click people’s names and add them to a Restricted List. Then, when you want everyone to see what you post, set that specific post to “Public.”
I shouldn’t have to explain this to you this far into the Facebook phenomenon, so forgive me for being a bit snotty.

Since we’re talking about snottiness, let’s also talk about snarkiness and anger and political views and questionable outfits and photos of you holding a cocktail and laughing uproariously. If those things are part of who you are — and they probably are if you’re reading this blog — this should not in any way reflect poorly on your faithfulness and dedication to ministry. Here, I’m circling back around to the original point I made in my post from earlier today about ministerial personae.

Why do people still think, in 2015, that God only calls angelic people to the ministry? Have they not heard what Jesus was really like, having been fed a steady diet of the Prince of Peace? Well pastor, that’s your job. Acquaint them.

Have they not heard of the prophets? If not, why not?

Have they not been acquainted yet with the complexities human nature, including yours? Do they not know yet about how their own socio-economic, ethnic, racial, geographical and age demographic influence and inform their internal clergy archetype? If not, enlighten them. You’re all in this together. If they’re totally unaware of the basics of anti-racism, anti-oppression work, intersectionality and categorical thinking, well, it’s high time you all looked at that together. Those are the tools we all need as we move into the future of a dying/transforming institutional church and rising geo-political strife. This cannot be about you and your swearing on Facebook. Put it all in context with your people, not out of their earshot. That’s not fair and it’s not responsible. This is an extremely intimate work, among other things. We have to be willing to engage with those to whom we minister who may not have ever been asked to be aware of their own projections or archetypes. Trust and respect folks enough to do that with them. If you have a social media strategy that involves being intentionally edgy and charismatic so as to attract more people to the broader religious conversation, share that exciting news with them. How are they supposed to know if you don’t tell them?

Also, do not forget to trust the health of the congregation and know that your leaders and more self-aware members will also engage with critics. It has happened for me again and again. Mature faith requires self-differentiation and mature people know that. Let them minister to each other and know that they will do so beautifully much of the time.

The dismantling of repressive, limiting, unrealistic, conformist clergy archetypes has been a long time coming and will not happen without clergy leadership and honesty.

Just don’t wear leggings as pants and post that on your Facebook page. My heart can’t take it.