Posted by: smstrouse | February 20, 2017

“Persistence, not Perfection”: A Sermon for Epiphany 7

16473565_10155078525834783_1389208840310346122_nEpiphany 7            February 19, 2017                 Matthew 5:38-48

“Persistence, not Perfection”*

Back in the day when churches had acolytes, it was the duty of every young person in the congregation to take a turn at suiting up in a robe and going decorously up to the altar to light the candles. In one of my former congregations, this was a pretty big deal. Back then the big marble altar was still up against the wall. On either side there was a brass candelabra with seven candles in descending order. On the altar itself were two more large brass candleholders. These candles were to be lighted only on the Sundays we had Communion (this was when Communion was only on the first and third Sundays at this church). Now there was a very specific way that all these candles were to be lit. Evidently the previous pastor had been insistent on this and all the acolytes trained by him knew the drill.

Then I came along. Sometimes a newer acolyte – or one of the older ones who forgot – would ask me, “Do I light the candles from the left side or the right side?” I’d have to say that I didn’t know. I didn’t say I didn’t care, although I usually quipped that since girls weren’t allowed to be acolytes when I was their age, how was I supposed to know?

Anyway – one Sunday little Millie Martin was scheduled to be acolyte. I was already up in the front, in the big chair behind the lectern, and I could see across the way into the sacristy where Millie’s mom was helping her get the candle lighter ready. So Millie comes out and starts lighting the candles on the candelabra. Suddenly I hear this hissing noise from the sacristy. Millie hears it too. She looks over, and I can see her mouthing the word, “What?” I couldn’t hear what Mrs. Martin was saying and evidently neither could Millie, so she had to go over and find out what the problem was. When she came back out to finish lighting the candles, I noticed that she was crying – not big, sobbing crying, but definitely shedding tears.

The acolyte always sat in the chair next to me, so when Millie came and sat down, I asked what was wrong. She said her mother told her she was lighting the candles wrong; she was supposed to light the altar candles first because it was a Communion Sunday. Thankfully, there was a long prelude that day because I needed to talk to that child.

The first thing was to tell her that actually her mother was wrong; it was not a Communion Sunday and Millie had been doing it right in the first place. The second thing was to tell her that I didn’t think Jesus would be concerned about which candles were lit in what order anyway, and there was never a need to do things perfectly in church. After church, as I was standing by the door greeting people on the way out, I watched as Millie went up to her mother and announced that the pastor had told her that it was OK with Jesus to not be perfect – which warmed my recovering perfectionist’s heart.

Those of you who know that I’m a big fan of the Enneagram know that I am a One, which is sometimes called the “Reformer,” but is also often called the “Perfectionist.” Ones believe there’s a right way to do something and a wrong way and are often very happy to tell you the right way – whether you want them to or not. But Ones don’t only pick on others. Depending whether they’re on the healthy or unhealthy end of the spectrum, Ones have a strict inner critic that lets them know when they’ve made a mistake. You know the phrase “beating yourself up”? Ones are the masters of it. So, as a recovering perfectionist myself, I sincerely hoped that I had nipped this tendency in the bud for Millie.

So it is always with dismay that I read Matthew 5:48: “Therefore be perfect, as God in heaven is perfect.” Really? After my victory over the forces of perfectionism with Millie and over my own inner critic, how can I believe that Jesus would say something like this?Especially after taking us through all the hard teaching of the Sermon on the Mount? Turn the other cheek. Go the second mile. Love your enemy. Pray for your persecutors. Just to name a few. Jesus has set the bar extraordinarily high for those who are courageous enough to be his disciples. And we’re supposed to be perfect at it?

As gospel (which is supposed to mean good news), this seems like a whole lot of bad news. Especially now, as people of faith are looking for spiritual guidance and strength to face the bad news of the day – in its multitudinous forms. As we struggle to get organized and figure out what can be done – on national, local, personal, and congregational levels – it just isn’t helpful (sorry, Jesus) to lay the demand of perfectionism on top of all that.

So what do we do with this vexing verse? The first thing is to do a quick check on this word in Greek (this is why we learn this stuff in seminary) where we see that the word here is telos. That can be translated as perfect, but not in the sense of always doing everything correctly or of moral flawlessness. Perfect can also be translated as complete or mature. A further definition of telos is an intended goal, a determined end. And in this case, this definition makes the most sense. Throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes, Jesus has been talking about how to live in the Realm of God. That is our goal, our intended end, our completion, the vision for which we strive.

So we could say that Jesus is not asking us to be perfect, but to persist in the goal Jesus has for us. Being a disciple doesn’t require perfection but persistence in bringing the vision of the Realm of God, the Beloved Community to bear on our world. Not that persistence is an easy path. We read the names of some of history’s persisters in the opening litany brought on by the attempt of Senator Elizabeth Warren to read the words of another persister, Coretta Scott King, only to be silenced, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

16716325_10211052711326871_7231659121742261363_o The litany was written by someone in the United Methodist tradition and posted on Facebook. We could add to it with some of our own Lutheran persisters, as well as countless others from history. And we can add so many more from the New Testament: the woman looking for her lost coins. Mary of Bethany sitting at the feet of Jesus. The woman with a flow of blood who dared to touch him. The woman at the well. The women who went to the tomb. The sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears and her hair. The poor widow’s offering. His mother insisting Jesus help out with the wine at a wedding. Mary of Bethany (again) confronting Jesus at the tomb of her brother Lazarus. The gospels do suggest that an essential characteristic of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is to persist in working toward the goal that the Sermon on the Mount lays out for us. I’m sure you can name your own examples of persistence – not only women, although the Elizabeth Warren incident brought on that particular battle cry.

As I said earlier, Enneagram Ones are also often called Reformers. People like Cesar Chavez, Daniel Ellsworth, Angela Davis, Al Gore, Nelson Mandela, Thurgood Marshall, Eleanor Roosevelt are often put into the One category. Also, quintessential reformer Martin Luther. Those of you who participated in the Enneagram workshop we did a few years ago might recall that we agreed with the idea that a congregation can have its own number and that First United was probably a One congregation – based primarily on our commitment to justice issues.

I heard a webcast recently that discussed how the different Enneagram types are responding to the election. Ones, along with Eights and Threes, are the ones leading the charge to “do something!” (hence, Tamara organizing the trip to the March on Washington). Twos, Fours, and Sevens – being more relational types – are experiencing the difficulty of broken relationships and desiring of their restoration (hence Pastor Anders attending the inauguration in a referee jersey, carrying a copy of “Reaching Across the Red-Blue Divide”). I actually think Middle Circle (like their pastor) is an Enneagram Seven – which is (dare I say it?) perfect because Seven is the direction in which a One moves when it is healthiest. Not that we give up our One-ness, but we become less “perfectionistic” and I’d say better able to carry out our work of persistent reformation.

We also need to keep reminding ourselves that we are not alone in our persistence and resistance. Jesus is not telling us to get our acts together and do this right. I think many of us all over this country are struggling right now to know how best to engage. There are so many issues. Every day brings another executive order, another petition, another request to make a phone call, make a donation, show up for a rally. We worry about our stamina for the long haul of this resistance. So this is not the time to be perfect, but to persist. As individuals, as families, we need to make decisions about where to focus our energies. As a congregation, we need to do the same thing. We’ll be talking about this more in our leadership circle. How can we focus our resources and our energies in ways that will sustain us for the duration?

And we need to remember our foundation. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the groundwork has already been laid. “No one can lay a foundation other than the one already in place.” Our foundation is our spiritual connection to one another and to the Divine. When we care for and maintain that connection, we are stronger beyond our wildest imagination. Going persistently deeply inward enables us to reach persistently widely outward.

16640746_10210793947658069_9042263697397313655_nThis is not the time to be perfect, but to persist. To persist toward the goal to which the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount give witness. To persist in bringing about the Commonwealth of God for all people in the face of continued resistance. To persist in a vision that others might not be able to see, but that we see. Not toward the goal of judgment, correction, or condemnation, but toward the divine end that realizes the full blessings, the perfect shalom, that God intends for all of creation.     Amen

*Many thanks to Karoline Lewis (another Enneagram One) at WorkingPreacher. for the inspiration.

Matthew 5:38-48
“You have heard the commandment, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I tell you, offer no resistance whatsoever when you’re confronted with violence. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other. If anyone wants to sue you for your shirt, hand over your coat as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go two miles. Give to those who beg from you. And don’t turn your back on those who want to borrow from you.

“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. This will prove that you are children of God. For God makes the sun rise on bad and good alike; God’s rain falls on the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? Don’t tax collectors do as much? And if you greet only your sisters and brothers, what is so praiseworthy about that? Don’t Gentiles do as much?

Therefore be perfect, as Abba God in heaven is perfect.


Posted by: smstrouse | February 17, 2017

More People of Faith Need to Speak Up

This statement arrived in my email inbox from Islamic Networks Group. According to their website, “ING is a non-profit organization with affiliates around the country that are pursuing peace, and countering all forms of bigotry, through education and interfaith engagement while working within the framework of the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom and pluralism.”

I know that the undersigned wrote this statement hoping to have it published as an OpEd piece. But so far, no media outlets have picked it up. So it’s up to us, folks, to spread the word about interfaith cooperation, spiritual self-care, and hope in these trying times.

We as a society are in a tumultuous moment—not only politically but morally. Millions of people find the actions of the Administration, and of Congress also, deeply immoral, and they are taking to the streets to voice their discontent. People of faith, individually and as communities, are prominent among them. But do people of faith have anything unique to bring to the struggles of the present moment? Can they do more than simply swell the multitudes protesting in the street or overwhelming Capitol telephone lines?

Yes, they can. In a moment where the latest executive order or the latest protest threatens to suck up all the world’s attention, people of faith have resources and wisdom that reach back millennia, and we need to bring them to bear on our current struggles. Here are some of them:

Religious and ethical resources bearing on today’s contentious questions:
The questions roiling the public today touch directly on issues about which our various traditions have much to say. This rests on the wisdom of centuries and cannot be written off as manifestations of modern liberalism. People of faith have rich spiritual and ethical resources that speak to today’s debates, including traditions and teachings addressing peace, nonviolence, mutual respect, hospitality, charity, and pluralism; and these resources point to basic values shared by all major world religions and also by humanists and other non-religious people. In the current climate, where certain religions (primarily, of course, Islam and Judaism) are openly or implicitly demonized, it is vital to point out these shared values and to use them as a starting point for addressing the ethical issues entailed in today’s conflicts. The issue of the reception of refugees, for instance, touches directly on questions of hospitality and care for the vulnerable that virtually all religious and ethical traditions address.

Spiritual resources for selfcare: Dealing with deeply-felt political and moral issues can easily lead to burn-out or, worse yet, to self-righteousness and anger that trigger speech and action that violate the very values we are trying to inculcate. Here, too, our traditions have rich resources to offer, including approaches to prayer and meditation, sacred texts that profoundly and powerfully express the truths and values that should inform our grappling with current issues, and the examples of adherents past and present who have lived by the virtues that we wish to see emulated. People of faith and spirit need to avail themselves of these resources and encourage fellow activists to draw on them.

Hope: This could have been included under either of the two preceding points, but it so undergirds and completes everything we seek to say here that it deserves consideration on its own. Particularly when one is, politically speaking, the underdog, it’s easy to be overcome by frustration and even despair. But whether one believes in a beneficent deity or divine reality or simply in the potential of the human mind and spirit, our religious and ethical traditions offer assurance that evil does not have the final word—that, as Martin Luther King said, echoing words from a long tradition, “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” Our spiritual traditions empower us to see that long arc beyond any current defeats. The current moment requires people who can draw on those traditions to kindle hope as we tread a challenging path of resistance.

Merely having these resources is not enough. We need to be both media-savvy and organizationally savvy—media savvy to draw media attention to our presence and our message, and organizationally savvy to initiate prayerful and spiritual events that build awareness of our values and resources among a broader public and inject them into current debates. The current Administration appears to be listening to the voices of only one segment of our country’s broad spectrum of faiths and faith communities. We, who on the basis of our faith share the moral concerns of so many of our fellow citizens, need to raise our voices to ensure that the values we seek to live by are heard above the din.

Rev. Ken Chambers, Interim Board President , Interfaith Council of Alameda County
Linda L. Crawford, Executive Director, Interfaith Center at the Presidio
Rev. Kristi Denham, Co-President, Peninsula Multifaith Coalition
Maha Elgenaidi, Executive Director, Islamic Networks Group (ING)
Fatih Ferdi Ates, Director, Pacifica Institute
Diane Fisher, Director, Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley
Andrew Kille, Chair, Silicon Valley Interreligious Council (SiVIC)
Will McGarvey, Executive Director, Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County
Michael G. Pappas, M.Div, Executive Director, San Francisco Interfaith Council (SFIC)
Steven A. Pinkston, Director of Christian Service, Bellarmine College Prep
Scott Quinn, Acting Director, Marin Interfaith Council
Rita R. Semel, Founder and past Chair, San Francisco Interfaith Council
Moina Shaiq, President, Tri-City Interfaith Council
Stephanie S. Spencer, President-elect, Eden Area Interfaith Council
Jessica Trubowitch, Director, Public Policy and Community Building, Jewish Community Relations Council – San Francisco Bay Area
Ardisanne Turner, Chair, United Religions Initiative North America


Posted by: smstrouse | February 11, 2017

Apocalypse or Paradigm Shift?

imagesStephen Bannon fancies himself an apocalyptic prophet. According to articles in Time  and The Nation, White House strategist  Bannon is a big fan of a theory of American history put forth by Neil Howe and William Strauss in a book called The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy (1997). Although their theory isn’t widely taught or discussed in the media, it may very well be a cornerstone of the new administration’s worldview.

Called “amateur historians” in Time and “pop historians” in The Nation, Howe and Strauss identified an 80-year cycle in American history, punctuated by cataclysmic crises that destroy the old order and create a new one. War is the hallmark of a “fourth turning” and according to Bannon, “There is a major war brewing, a war that is already global. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.”

Like all apocalyptic writing, The Fourth Turning addresses people who feel that they are under attack and offers them hope in the midst of their persecution. His 2010 movie Generation Zero ends with both warning and hope: “When you get into a crisis era, literally anything can happen. The restraints come down. These are the eras of revolution. These are the eras of reigns of terror. But the question of what the new order will be is up to us.”

As I read about this, I couldn’t help comparing this worldview with that of those who271-600x600 think we’re in the beginnings of a paradigm shift, a new axial age. In my book, The INTRAfaith Conversation, I come at this idea from a religious/ spiritual perspective. However, it’s actually based on social theory. The word axial comes from German philosopher Karl Jaspers’ use of the German word ‘achse,’ which means pivotal. The theory is that during certain periods of history there have been major shifts in the political, philosophical and religious systems of the world.

Catholic theologian Ewart Cousins called the end of the 20th century the beginning of a Second Axial Age. In this new era, humanity is coming to understand the world and human responsibility in global, not local terms. This shift is the impetus for working together for the betterment of the world. Professor Leonard Swidler of Temple University wrote:

Like the first (axial age) it is happening simultaneously around the earth, and like the first it will shape the horizon of consciousness for future centuries. Not surprisingly, too, it will have great significance for world religions, which were constituted in the First Axial Period. However, the new form of consciousness is different from that of the First Axial Period. Then it was individual consciousness, now it is global consciousness.

The first Axial age ushered in a radically new form of consciousness and the great religions of the world are the product of that period. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Judaism all took shape in their classical forms during this period; and Judaism provided the base for the later emergence of Christianity and Islam. Karen Armstrong, whose 2006 book The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions chronicled the development of religion in the First Axial Age, has written:

imagesAll over the world, people are struggling with these new conditions and have been forced to reassess their religious traditions, which were designed for a very different type of society. They are finding that the old forms of faith no longer work for them; they cannot provide the enlightenment and consolation that human beings seem to need. As a result, men and women are trying to find new ways of being religious. Like the reformers and prophets of the first Axial Age, they are attempting to build upon the insights of the past in a way that will take human beings forward into the new world they have created for themselves.

What are some of the main characteristics of the emerging paradigm?

  • It’s global. Humanity is seen as a single tribe and this one tribe is interconnected with the total.
  • It’s an age of dialogue. Instead of talking only with those like us, we meet with people of differing convictions, not as opponents, but in order to listen, share and learn from one another.
  • It’s characterized by a deep commitment to environmental justice, including a shift from an exclusively anthropocentric view to one which sees humanity in interdependent relationship with all other life forms and with the Earth.
  • It will involve a redefinition of religion. Many of the answers given in the past do not address questions being asked today.

I believe that a lot of the anxiety among the apocalyptic crowd is due to the fact that shift is happening.

Is your worldview apocalyptic or does it embrace paradigm shift?

Which do we want our political leaders to embrace?





Posted by: smstrouse | February 4, 2017

Spiritually Resisting the Black Bloc

black-bloc-time-potyIn 2002, when I was considering going to Berkeley to work on my doctorate, I visited the Pacific School of Religion. While there, I also spent a lot of time walking around the UC Berkeley campus and the surrounding area. How thrilling to come upon People’s Park and Caffe Med, the famous Telegraph Avenue referred to as the “home of the latte.” But it was when I came upon the Free Speech Cafe on campus that I stopped in my tracks and said (maybe it was under my breath, maybe out loud, I’m not sure), “I made it! 30+ years late, but I made it!”

unknownThis was not only history, but a witness and tradition that still stands today. So it was with dismay that I watched the unfolding of the protest on campus Wednesday night. Begun as a peaceful demonstration against the hate-mongering Milo Yiannopoulos, it turned into a destructive rampage through the tactics of the Black Bloc. And of course media attention was focused on the violence and property damage.

We’ve seen this before. Occupy Oakland was hijacked and lost a lot of support from people who couldn’t condone Black Bloc tactics. I believe we need to shut this counter-productive nonsense down immediately if the resistance to the policies of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is going to go the distance.

3 million+ people around the world marched and demonstrated – with not one incident of violence or destruction. As people of faith committed to spiritual defiance and the building up of the Beloved Community, we must find ways to stand against Black Bloc tactics. And we must hold the media accountable to reporting on the non-violence of the majority of demonstrators and our opposition to actions that are counter-productive.

There’s a lot of commentary now about what UC Berkeley should or should not have done, what the campus Republicans were trying to prove (or instigate), and how demonstrators should or should not have taken the bait. All good questions. But in my mind – as one committed to spiritual defiance – neutralizing the Black Bloc is job one.

Posted by: smstrouse | January 23, 2017

Spiritual Defiance

22march9-superjumboWhat’s not to love about a book called Spiritual Defiance? With an equally intriguing subtitle: Building a Beloved Community of Resistance?

I read most of it on the plane from Oakland to the Women’s March in Washington. I was glad I brought a highlighter with me because I immediately started marking up lines on page after page (I don’t think I’ve done that since working on my doctorate).

I first heard author Robin Meyers at a seminar based on a previous book, The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus. This was at an annual meeting of the Westar Institute, which always appeals to the academic nerd in me, but often leaves the pastor side of me a bit cold. But Meyers is a parish pastor, as well as a professor of philosophy. And his down-to-earth pastor side spoke to me as he describes the reality of the church today. What’s different from the usual hand-wringing, millennial-blaming, angst-ridden jeremiad is his call for us to return to our roots as a community of resistance.

What does he mean by that?
To be clear, by resistance I mean that the church of Jesus Christ should be, as it once was, an “embodied force opposed,” a beloved community of defiance, a joyful but resilient colony of dissenters from the forces death – both physical and spiritual – that destroy and marginalize creation. The assumed premise here is that compliance with the unacceptable, even through apathy or indifference, is a sin. The body of Christ was born to resist in love all that is the enemy of love.

That is precisely why I wanted to be a visible presence of the church at the march. Even though I had to haul our First United sign across the country and rush at the last-minute to get buttons made for all our marchers, I knew we needed to be identified as followers of Jesus, a community of defiance committed to helping build the Beloved Community for all people and all creation. As we all know, this is not easy work. And Meyers doesn16174530_10210582709377244_3249432234498300359_n-1‘t give easy answers. In fact, he tells us that we have to become “undone,” that things have to fall apart before they are put back together; disorientation precedes reorientation. In our vulnerability, we become weak enough to be made strong.

Meyers describes this undone-ness as:
~ Faith as Resistance to Ego
~ Faith as Resistance to Orthodox
~ Faith as Resistance to Empire

Each one of them is a challenge worthy of a book it its own right. But recovering today from the march yesterday and reflecting on how to keep the momentum of this historic event going, I find the section on empire the most imperative.

I hope there’s an updated chapter in the works because the book was written during the Obama administration. And while the call to resist empire was vital then, it’s even more so now. Although, we don’t really need an update to figure to out. Just check out the God is not against building walls! sermon by Robert Jeffress at a service attended by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named on Friday before the inauguration.

We’ve got work to do folks. And this would be a great study for clergy groups and congregational study groups to read together and discuss – but not just discuss, implement!







Listen to the sermon here

I never in a million years dreamt that I would begin a sermon by quoting not the scriptures but Alice in Wonderland, but…“The time has come” the walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships—and sealing wax—of cabbages and kings”

To say that the last couple of days have been unusually, would be an understatement of epic proportions. Suddenly, it is as if we are all following Alice in Wonderland and together the world has gone through the looking glass and we find ourselves in a strange new world, were up is down and down is up, facts no longer matter, the way forward has a strange orange hue about it, and I can’t quite see a path through to reality. Everywhere I look the darkness appears deeper and darker than I ever imagined possible. Just when I think I have…

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Posted by: smstrouse | January 20, 2017

Alice Paul & the Women Who Will Keep Marching by Kate Brunner

Hedwig Reicher as Columbia on the steps of the Treasury Building in Washington, DC, March 3, 1913. Hedwig Reicher as Columbia on the steps of the Treasury Building in Washington, DC, March 3, 1913.

The day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade took place in Washington, D.C. to demand the attention of the incoming administration and advance the cause of suffrage. Organized primarily by Alice Paul, 8,000 women marched on Washington on March 3, 1913.

Alice Paul is an often overlooked figure in American suffragette history. She’s no longer as common a name as Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her early feminist contemporaries weren’t always very fond of her, for that matter. Many found her “too radical,” especially after her return from training with the British suffragettes, where she was arrested multiple times. But Alice Paul knew how to get things done.

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Posted by: smstrouse | January 20, 2017

Privileged (?) to March

16114881_791390466109_682503744201553862_nAs I settled into my seat on the Southwest plane in Oakland this morning, heading to Washington, D.C., I reflected how privileged I feel to be going to the Women’s March. Being a pastor in a congregation that is sending a large contingent all the way from San Francisco, having my way paid because they felt it was important for me to be here, hearing well-wishes and support from those unable to go – I do feel privileged. And I will do my best to represent our community of faith as we protest the offensive language and behavior that some men (including the president) think is appropriate.

Yet as soon as that word came into my consciousness, I was brought up short. “Privilege” is – rightly so – a word with a negative connotation. Sian Ferguson, in Privilege 101: A Quick and dirty Guide, defines privilege as a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.We’ve been hearing about it a lot more lately, but all the way back in the 1930s WEB DuBois wrote about the “psychological wage” that allowed whites to feel superior to black people. And in 1988, Peggy McIntosh, a women’s studies scholar at Wellesley, wrote “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies.”

As a white woman, I am very aware of my privilege in this sense. But I struggle. This morning, while waiting in the airport, I read a blog advising white women to be silent at the march, to allow our sisters of color to take the lead in voicing our protest against patriarchy and misogyny. I will admit that I’m struggling with this. Not because women of color don’t have reason to be heard and groups that have enjoyed privileged need to recognize it and be mindful. But I wonder how we might come to a way of sharing our voices. Will we ever reach that point?

I do not want to exercise or abuse my privilege as a white person. However, as a young girl who was devalued and taught to keep quiet, and as a woman who has been groped, grabbed, verbally and physically assaulted, and yes, raped, I know that I need to have a voice. As do all women who have experienced such violations – no matter what color.

In my years as a pastor, I’ve been accustomed to responding to those who thank me for my services with “It’s been my privilege.” And I truly have meant those words; I often find myself placing my hand over my heart as I say this. In my position of being invited into some of the most intimate thought/ emotional/ spiritual processes of people dealing with all manner of situations of life and death, I recognize what an extraordinary thing that is. I guess “honor” might convey the same sense. But frankly, I can’t think of a better word than privilege.

It’s a dilemma. I hope we’ll continue to challenge ourselves and one another. I also hope that as we come together for the Women’s March on Washington that we’ll be able to do so in spite of these prickly issues that need so much more work.

But you know, just last week, a Republican town representative in Greenwich, CT was arrested and charged with sexual assault for pinching a women’s genitals. Read article here.


And that is why I march. pussyhat-project-537x403




Posted by: smstrouse | January 18, 2017

Confronting the White Christian Vote for Trump by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert profileThis week a politician from Connecticut reached between a woman’s legs and pinched her genitals saying that he loves this new world where he doesn’t have to be politically correct. Sadly, this is just another act of violence among many perpetrated based on the example of our President Elect, Donald Trump.

While many have been very troubled by Trump’s candidacy and ultimate election to the highest office in the nation – and the world – more than 80% of Evangelicals and 60% of Catholics gave their vote to Trump.

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Posted by: smstrouse | January 14, 2017

Go High or Go Low?

il_570xn-1082532334_lvlrOne of the many online petitions I’ve been asked to sign since the election was to ask our legislators to block all of the nominees out forth by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. I hesitated over that one. After railing for eight years about Republican roadblocks, could I in good conscience advocate for the same kind of behavior?

A Huffington Post article this week had no such qualms. It called Democrats “weak” for not going after nominees with the same kind of vigor as the Republicans had done. Some justified declining to engage in the same tactics. Instead, they are, as Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said, “. . . trying to make sure that we’re still in character, that we’re still the party that believes in governing, we’re still the sane folks.” But many are wondering if anything can be accomplished by holding to Michelle Obama’s advice: “When they go low, we go high.”

ap_mlk_memorial_quote_kb_130723_16x9_992I would like to believe that the hight road can be successful. On this weekend of honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., his words from 50 years ago ring out with new meaning:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. 

But I also believe that there is an added dimension to our new national nightmare that must be taken into consideration. When I read the article, “Coping with narcissistic personality disorder in the White House, I knew the author was on to something. While all ten of the insights about dealing with someone with narcissistic personality disorder, I found #s 1, 6, and 7 to be particularly relevant to this discussion.

dc23ec68e11e3fd8856c66529a204c8c# 1:  It’s not curable and it’s barely treatable. He is who he is. There is no getting better, or learning, or adapting. He’s not going to “rise to the occasion” for more than maybe a couple hours. So just put that out of your mind.

#6:  It’s very confusing for non-disordered people to experience a disordered person with NPD. While often intelligent, charismatic, and charming, they do not reliably observe social conventions or demonstrate basic human empathy. It’s very common for non-disordered people to lower their own expectations and try to normalize the behavior. Do not do this and do not allow others, especially the media, to do this. If you start to feel foggy or unclear about why, step away until you recalibrate.

#7:  People with NPD often recruit helpers. These are referred to as “enablers” in the literature when they allow or cover for bad behavior, and “flying monkeys” when they perpetrate bad behavior on behalf of the narcissist. Although it’s easiest to prey on malicious people, good and vulnerable people can be unwittingly recruited. It will be important to support the good people around him if and when they attempt to stay clear or break away.

Our challenge is going to be “going high” with a whole lot of “going low” going on. Maintaining a spirit of love, while confronting hatred, bigotry, and ignorance will necessitate a strong spiritual discipline. But we’re going to have to deal with this mental disorder as well – not stigmatizing mental illness, but educating ourselves, setting our boundaries, calling out bad behavior, and calling out those who buy into it.

I am calling He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named a narcissist. No, I’m not a mental health professional who can make such a diagnosis. But after reading the literature and recognizing the symptoms, I believe we had to take this seriously – in the interest of public health.

I do not use the word as a pejorative or a joke, nor do I intend to stigmatize anyone with a mental disorder. But when there is a narcissist in the White House, it is incumbent on us to know how to respond, how to go high. Because he will go low.





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