Clergy: Be Brave And Be Bold In A Burning Time

How is everyone?

I didn’t preach yesterday and actually cancelled my travel plans so I could rest and read. I read a lot. I read about ISIS and the situation in Syria and the Middle East all day. I stayed quiet and then went to a friend’s birthday party.

I want to write soon about how little clergy can afford to be drawn into petty squabbles right now; a blog post inspired by a thread I followed the other day at the RevGalBlogPals Facebook page about parishioner complaints about their ministers revealing their unpious, human side. The world is burning. Religious leaders need to be grounded, strong, sane and learned. We and our staff members and lay leaders need to stay the course and have worthy things to say, to be and to provide in an extremely unstable time. Those who drag any of us backward into the kind of squabble that might have seemed important at some point (“My pastor SWORE” or “My minister didn’t attend the concert because he was too busy writing a Huffington Post article about terrorism and faith/income inequality and violence that will only maybe be read by 30-40,000 people and I NEED HIS ATTENTION!”) must be informed that it ain’t like that any more, sorry,
love ya,
we have bigger issues to address.

A LOT needs to be said about this. It is insane to hear of a pastor being berated because she posted something about going home, getting into her sweats, and wishing she didn’t have to go back to church for a meeting. The answer is not to create a fake persona on social media or to refrain from using Facebook. The answer is to address this bizarre, outdated, controlling, ridiculous kind of scrutiny of ministers and to end it. A friend of mine who recently left the parish ministry said that he often felt as though his people loved him because he was religious FOR them and they could absorb a kind of vicarious piety through him. Good God, that’s got to stop wherever it’s going on. Clergy must take the lead and calmly redirect this outmoded instinct. How to regard the role of the minister is, actually, the minister’s job to help their congregations or communities clearly understand. You are the person in the profession. You are the one in the organization who knows the history of the role and can explain how it has evolved over the centuries, and where it stands now. Do not expect anyone to do this for you — it’s your job. It is not a personal thing, but institutional. People follow tradition and local culture in this wise unless you educate and work with them to evolve their understanding.

Another thing that can sap ministerial energy and spirit…

Those of you who are living in This Doesn’t Really Concern Us Land: No, you are not crazy or wrong to feel sick and frustrated by the murmurings of “such a shame” while people go about their comfortable lives. If people can’t see how interrelated all of these bloody issues of global climate change [thanks, Judy – PB], poverty, hopelessness, racism, violence, occupation, fundamentalism, extremism, greed, nihilism and human dignity are — well, may God forgive them their avoidance and denial and help you, awake minister, to find a more juicy vineyard in which to labor. We are not called to serve the comfortable and assure that their well-oiled machines of empty ritual and Sunday-only spiritual pangs never break and never run out of members or money.

Find a community that wants to do more, be more, even at the risk of confusion, unknowing and failure. Find a community that doesn’t have a Victorian Pastor Fantasy but wants to work collaboratively alongside someone who is faithful, authentic, smart, hard-working, honest, visionary, creative, articulate, compassionate, emotionally healthy, angry enough but not enraged, strong and self-differentiated. Then be that person and go to it. Stop worrying about fulfilling some traditional archetype. You’re not a saint and no one cares. You need to be a reliable and good LEADER.

Loving people does not mean being paralyzed by niceties and traditions that mask over an iron-clad control of the minister and the minister’s message and vision. The world is burning. You know what I’m talking about and you know you’re going to have to be braver than you thought.

Well, this may be the actual post after all.

The “UseMeInstead” Campaign

Hello from very snowy Massachusetts, darling pigeons.

I need to find the right tone in which to author this next post, which is about something deadly serious: racism, white privilege and policing in America. Very difficult, complicated, emotional, searing.

I have not been blogging much this past six months because quite frankly, I have been glued to social media every night following the #BlackLivesMatter movement that was re-ignited with a fury in Ferguson, Missouri, this past August. I have been obsessed about the issue of police brutality, the prison state, and racial hatred in America. I think I have been consistently enraged about it since I taught in Maywood, Illinois in the early 1990’s and got schooled in racism, and just put my anger aside (or buried it) for a long time. I have followed the river of blood that is urban Black America out of the corner of my eye for a long time, never giving myself full permission to speak nearly as much as I have wanted to about white complacency. I have served suburban congregations for a long time for whose members racism is a complex and uncomfortable reality that most of us know we have to work against in ourselves and in society. Many of us have studied racism and worked at becoming anti-racist. Our denomination has offered trainings and made anti-racism work central to its institutional commitments and made it a requirement that seminarians earn competencies in anti-racism and anti-oppression.

But we have not done nearly enough to move into diverse communities with our actual lives and relationships, content to be conceptually anti-racist and waiting for people of color to discover our congregations which (surprise! not!) they have not.

When it came time to go into search again a couple years ago, I had an opportunity to make my own world less white. I was called to serve a congregation located in a suburb but right next to an incredibly diverse city whence the congregation had its roots. I decided to move into the city rather than the suburb. My neighbors are Latino, Black, Asian, White, everything. I am more happy to be here than I can say. It has meant everything to me to live in an environment that I truly believe represents the best of this country: diveristy, hospitality, overcoming fear of difference. I speak awkward Spanish every day. Our schools and hospitals speak 80 languages. Our police force is diverse. We have old white townies and Cambodian immigrants in city government. Our churches are Haitian, African, Central American. We are the whole shebang.

I heard a couple of weeks ago about a police department where officers in the North Miami Beach Police Department were using mugshots of young black men for target practice. Like everyone else who read about it, I was furious and disgusted. Then today, I heard that a group of white clergy responded with a well-meaning Twitter campaign called #UseMeInstead. Here’s a story about it.

I want to explain why I find this campaign incredibly offensive on a visceral level and a political level. I think it is a terrible example of activism and solidarity. I am not surprised that African-American clergy stayed away from it. I am going to try not to rant, which is why I’m going to use nice, helpful numbers to order my thinking.

1. If the use of mugshots in target practice disturbs us for the obvious reason that human images should never be used for target practice, the solution is not to provide new and different human figures for target practice. The irrationality of the gesture is embarrassing. If the practice is wrong, it’s wrong. Asking “shoot at my image” is just more wrong on top of the already wrong.

1. Replacing black faces with white faces in order to call attention to racial profiling is insulting and actually racist. Do I need to even say this? The symbolism of covering the images of young black men who live with the real danger of racial profiling with images of comfortable, smiling white people is disturbing. #BlackLivesMatter does not need more well-meaning white people crowding in front of the camera waving their hands and saying, “Look at me!” In this case, the white clergy are literally saying “Look at me!” Those of us who protest the use of mugshots of African-American men in target practice owe it to those men to explain why their faces should not be used to pump bullets into, not to divert attention to our own white faces that will never be threatened by a police gun.

2. The high drama of this campaign embarrasses me. We are not Jesus. We are not even Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The resonances of martyrdom in these messages to USE ME INSTEAD are chilling in their unconscious implication. Really? You sure about that, folks? Be careful what you say. As Dolly Parton would say, “Get off the Cross, we need the wood.”

3. This rationalization that this campaign would make a cop stop and think before aiming a bullet at a white person holding a Bible accomplishes exactly zero in the lifting up of the value of black lives. The organizers may as well have called this #ClergyLivesMatter.

Think about how disturbing this really is: clergy are counting on their images being instantly recognized by police officers as representing worthy, valuable human lives they would hesitate to shoot dead. How does this in any way combat or challenge the dehumanization of young black male lives? If anything, as I read it, it reinforces racist ideology, ie, “You would think before shooting ME, wouldn’t you?” It’s a taunt, not an act of solidarity.

4. White savior complex. It is one thing to march out in front when the people who have chosen you to lead them are willing to march behind you, and to take a stand against abuses of power. The massive and insensitive error here is that no black community leaders asked for these well-meaning white clergy to take the lead in addressing the dehumanization of black men by the North Miami Beach Police Department. Note that not one African-American clergyperson participated in the campaign.

5. This campaign feels like the opposite of the kind of relational, bridge-building and community-building work clergy are called to do. The clergy who send these images to the North Miami Beach Police Department do not live anywhere near that PD and have no opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation or follow-through with the officers or leaders there. Nothing they have said to the press indicates that they have any plan to do so. Therefore, I suspect this effort will be greeted with defensive irritation and legitimate criticism that the clergy sending their images in have no idea what the police department does, how it operates, and what police officers there experience, think or feel. The police chief has issued a statement that mug shots are used for target practice that feature diverse images. If the clergy feel that using ANY mug shots for target practice is a dehumanizing exercise that desensitizes police officers to the value of all lives, and especially Black lives, they should stay on topic and make meaningful statements to that effect.

I appreciate seminarian Broderick Greer’s honesty and clarity on the issue.

Well-meaning, caring clergy can still make mistakes. I recognize that I will upset and anger some readers with this column. I am not known for my soft touch and I hope everyone involved knows that I hold you in my heart as sincere and good colleagues even as I speak hard words about what I believe are serious mistakes with this campaign.

Bang. !

Why You Should Be On Twitter

Because an NAACP office was bombed today and the mainstream media didn’t cover it, but it’s trending on Twitter.

Because the mainstream media isn’t really “news” — Twitter breaks all the stories first.

Because you can easily connect with people and hear voices coming from WAY outside your parish or ministry context.

Because it allows you to follow hundreds of very diverse people whose work and leadership or humor or vision inspire you, and whose tweets will provide you with links to fascinating and relevant articles through which you can easily sift for sermon fodder, scholarship or entertainment.

Because you can read 100’s of Tweets in a few minutes.

Because it’s a very different platform from Facebook, Tumblr, blogging or any other form of social media — don’t assume you’re “covered” if you use other platforms.

Some Twitter tips:

Stay active. Don’t lurk and merely consume – respond, retweet, pass along the good stuff. Have fun. Make friends.

Twitter is raw. Staid little bromides or quotes are a snooze. Don’t clutter up the feed with unoriginal or irrelevant material. Tweeting is about RIGHT NOW, not about a pastor somewhere desperately trying to improve their Piety Rating by tweeting Scripture quotes.

Use Twitter interactively, not just as a bulletin board to announce blog posts or published sermons.

Your Twitter tone may be edgier than your church newsletter: they’re for different audiences and different generations.

That said, don’t post anything on Twitter that you wouldn’t be able to justify to your parish members, some of whom are absolutely keeping an eye on your Tweets.

Never, ever grouse about your church on Twitter!!

Never assume that you will be able to maintain anonymity. If you get caught cussing or being highly irreverent under a Twitter pseudonym, be prepared to explain yourself when you’re outed. This won’t necessarily be a bad thing. Clergy image is evolving and we need to lead that effort, not fall victim to it.

Recognize the limitations of the medium and go with the flow.

What did I forget to say? Twitteurs?

Ten Years of PeaceBang!!

Hello, pigeons!!

I began blogging as PeaceBang on December 30, 2004. Beauty Tips For Ministers was my second blog, and came along a couple of years later. I cannot believe I — and WE — have been using social media for a decade!

Please join me in celebrating TEN YEARS OF PEACEBANG AND SOCIAL MEDIA MINISTRY on December 30 and 31st. I would like to go live on Google Hangouts from 2-4 pm EST on Tuesday and then again the next day in the late morning. I am not leaving myself a lot of time to plan this but it could work if I get folks on board early! I will do readings, answer questions, take callers and read your letters.

Do you have a favorite PeaceBang story, quote, memory or comment? Did PeaceBang touch your life in some way in the past decade? Let’s hear about it!! Your comments are most welcome here and to my personal e-mail at (my real first name – dot – my real last name @

WAY BACK WHEN – -before we even had the word “selfie!”
Vicki Headshot

And today, older but wiser (I hope):

2014-08-17 19.10.18

Pastors and Facebook

Hi dumplings!

A colleague asked me for my opinion about using Facebook in ministry, what guidelines I might recommend for friending parishioners and that sort of thing.

Social media is a brand-new phenomenon, so we’re all figuring this out together. The best advice I can give is to keep thinking and talking about it amongst ourselves and our communities and start to assemble some common wisdom and best practices. If, along the way, we hear some nightmare stories, so much the better! No one wants to be a cautionary tale but major bloopers are inevitable when we’re dealing with new relational technologies.

So, a few of my own thoughts on the matter:

1. Facebook is a public space. No matter how many filters any of us set up, it’s possible that the photo taken of us skinny-dipping with a beer in our hand at a friend’s pool party might be seen by the whole world. Do you care? Would that ruin your life? If so, stay off Facebook. Facebook, like all social media, should enhance your well-being and serve the goodness in your life. If it seems scary and causes you a case of bad nerves, avoid it, or only use it in a carefully monitored professional capacity. Open a FB account that works as an extension of your ministry and use it only in that way.

Of course, it makes me sad if any of you feel you can’t be “caught” being authentically yourselves by those who know you as a minister, but that’s an issue of persona that I consider more historical than personal. It is also regional and denominational.

2. I am of the opinion that my parishioners get to hear plenty from me in the form of sermons, visits, conversations, meetings, newsletter columns and parking lot confabs. They certainly don’t need to follow my personal life ruminations on the movie I saw last night or how well or badly I slept, or see the silly beagle videos I tend to share. So I keep one private Facebook account that is for pals and family who don’t need to feel obligated to “Like” or respond to my little bitty stupid stuff, and one for parish connections. If I was a new minister I would include all my colleagues in the ministerial Facebook account, but many of my clergy friends are like siblings by now. We have been on retreat together, we’ve seen each other in our jammies, we have a degree of trust and comfort with each other that allows us to gab about baseball games, sick aunts, bad blind dates, and flatulence without suffering any loss of mutual respect. I treasure the interplay of professional and personal that we share on Facebook. Plus: cute grandchildren pics!

3. I appreciate Facebook’s filters, but I don’t trust them. Neither should you. I use filters in my “big” account to differentiate between the various worlds I inhabit (mostly between the eras of my life, and Theatre People vs Religious Community People. There’s some overlap). This is mostly to spare people some measure of boredom. All 400 of my Facebook friends aren’t interested in my multiple postings on dress rehearsal for the show I’m in, for instance. I appreciate that my Facebook friends can also filter me out, can change their settings so that they only see occasional posts of mine, and hide me entirely if they so choose. I sometimes share big news or deep thoughts with only a portion of my friends, relying on filters to create a separate virtual “room,” but I am aware that the filters could fail at any time.

4. Facebook messaging has gotten a lot better in terms of interfacing with my other mobile devices, so I don’t find it as irritating as I used to. Today’s reality is such that most of us have to check multiple devices and accounts to see if there are messages for us. We may miss a few here and there. I am pretty sure that just yesterday I accidentally deleted a voice mail, but I can’t be sure. We all have to be forgiving and hope that we will be forgiven if we drop a message by accident. Communicate this frequently in your ministry settings.

5. Thou shalt not: “vague-book” (post vague, attention-seeking updates that are obviously designed to elicit sympathetic inquiries about your well-being. You’re not in 8th grade); “thread-jack” (interrupt a conversation on a friend’s page to derail the conversation, soap box or attack your friend’s friends), or use Facebook co-dependently (e.g., interfering between two people in the midst of an on-line disagreement). If Facebook makes you feel insecure, paranoid or awkward, don’t use it! Don’t go on the ride if you don’t enjoy it.

6. If you inadvertently commit a social faux pas on Facebook, join the rest of us! Pick up the phone or write an e-mail and apologize. It’s probably not the end of the world. I once posted a church photo on the church Facebook page that I genuinely thought I remembered taking myself and took credit for it. I was horrified when the actual photographer nicely and with humor reminded me that I had not. The worst thing about that blooper was that my memory had so completely failed me! We’re human. Technologies are no more perfect than we are. We have to use them the best we can.

7. After participating on a panel on social media at our General Assembly a few summers ago, a woman approached me with tears in her eyes to tell me that her minister had given a sermon against Facebook, and in that sermon had claimed that the friendships and relationships formed on-line through that medium were not “real.” I was sorry to hear it, and told the woman that I had made many very real friendships through Facebook, and that I was sorry she had been so hurt by my colleague’s words. So this is just to say, maybe Facebook isn’t your thing and you can’t see how it connects people in a meaningful way. That’s fine. But please do not assume that this is the case for everyone. I have at least three close friends (one of whom I have not yet met, although we have on-camera conversations) that I met through Facebook. Welcome to the new reality! They may not be able to come over for tea, but they’re real, I’m real, and our trust, affection and sense of emotional kinship is real. How is that not a “real” friendship? As I have said at conferences, Christians really need to think about the implications for denying that on-line ministries and relationships are “real.” After all, what is our relationship with Jesus and the original community of disciples of not virtual? Right? Holy Spirit, people! She is a-working over the interwebs! *Doug Henning magic hands*
8. It is up to all of us to consider the ways we might expand and enhance our ministry field through the use of social media. I think Facebook is an amazing gift to the church. In mere minutes you can post a church Facebook page, broadcast sermons, videos, announcements, information, reflections and mission to the wider community. This new technology may intimidate you, but it is not even new anymore by today’s lightning-fast technological shifts and innovations. Facebook is actually the staid old lady of social media! Don’t worry too much about using it in the perfect way – something else just as game-changing will come along soon.