We All Have Fears

The Rev. Melanie Wallschlaeger, Director for Evangelical Mission for the Southwestern Washington Synod.

“We all have fears of some kind. We can also have these fears in our lives as congregations. . . . We can have fears about the future, fear that our congregation will die, or not be relevant. Do we fear what our congregations might look like if they become more welcoming to our neighbors? Do we fear what our congregations will look like after the pandemic? Do we fear what our congregations might look like if others come and join us and help make decisions, and bring their gifts?

When we think about our congregational ministry, when we think about worship, will an openness to gifts of diversity in our congregations change what I feel is most precious? Will it mean we sing songs I don’t know or like? Does it mean I will lose what I know and hold most dear or value? Will I lose my place of privilege if we welcome others? Am I afraid of the future at this moment because it’s largely unknown?”

My sense of our congregation is yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Major props to Wallschlaeger for asking the exact right questions.

Related. Last night on NextDoor (please remind me, why am I still a member?) someone reported on a Black Lives Matter protest. Since NextDoor has no journalistic standards, a certain hysteria quickly set in. Some of the numerous commenters said they regularly check the online County police scanner to learn what bad things are happening before leaving their home.

Let that sink in.

One of two things is true. A mostly unfounded epidemic of fear has descended upon the land or I’m dangerously naive of the many risks to life and limb.

What I Think I Know About The Covington, Kentucky High Schoolers

International Pressing Pausers have to be especially confused by what’s going on in the (dis)United States. I confess, I don’t fully understand what’s going on in the picture below which has prompted an intense national debate. At first glance, the central teen’s smile communicates a certain immaturity, arrogance, and disrespect for the elderly Native American in front of him.

Anyone that has worked with teens for any length of time can tell you that most are immature, some are arrogant, and a few disrespectful. So why the national outrage over one possible example from Covington, KY?

The picture probably fired up lefties because Native Americans deserve unmitigated respect for enduring centuries of oppression largely at the hands of white men. It most likely fired up conservatives because they believe the Left overreacts to any form of conservatism, thus opening themselves up to the criticism that they aren’t nearly as tolerant as they claim. Historical ignorance + a certain hypocrisy + ubiquitous social media = intense national debate.

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What I think I know about the photographed high schoolers is best explained through a short story. It’s the mid-90s, when I was a young prof at a liberal arts college in Greensboro, NC, I lead a First Year orientation mountain biking trip in West Virginia. By the end of Day One I was exasperated by the incessant immaturity of my charges. The young men in particular were crass, cliquish, and careless. Despite West Virginia’s natural beauty, I was dreading the remainder of the trip.

Then a funny thing happened. I started to have individual conservations with the participants one after another. And I was blown away by the discrepancy between their group and individual selves. One-on-one, or even two-on-one, at meals, in the jacuzzi, alone on the trail, I found them imminently likable. It was a powerful reminder of what I had forgotten about my teenage self and the hundreds of high schoolers I had taught previously. Teen males, a terribly insecure species, routinely bring out the worst in each other. The mathematical term is lowest common denominator (LCD). At it’s worst, it can contribute to a mob mentality.

When I first saw the “Covington” picture, the first thing I zeroed in on was the students in the background who were smiling and laughing at their classmate’s behavior. Classic LCD. Is susceptibility to negative peer pressure an excuse for immaturity, arrogance, disrespect; hell no, but it is reason to view the incident as more of a teachable moment than a criminal act.

Even without knowing the broader context, which is what now is being endlessly debated, the educator in me believes the teens deserve a modicum of grace. To learn about Native American history and people’s criticisms of their actions. In the expectation that if they ever find themselves in a similar situation they behave differently.

 

A Long Way to Go

Despite the demagogues rhetoric, the U.S. is becoming more inclusive. In part because of changing demograpics. Nearly eight years ago, we elected our first African American President. Then we re-elected him.

Odds are we’re going to elect our first female President this November. When though, will we elect our second female President? Our second African American? Our first Latino or Latina? Second Latino or Latina?

A conservative friend writes me and says this election shouldn’t have anything to do with gender. Only excellence. I guess I’m supposed to believe it’s a crazy coincidence that forty four times in a row a man has been most excellent just as one could flip a coin forty four times and have it come up heads everytime. Sure, that’s plausible.

Only when we join the following list will candidates’ gender start to fade in importance.

Countries that have had more than one female leader (includes acting, interim leaders etc)^

Switzerland (6) Six presidents*
Sri Lanka (3) One president, two prime ministers
Haiti (3) One president, two prime ministers
Finland (3) One president, two prime ministers
South Korea (3) Two prime ministers, one president
Lithuania (3) One president, two prime ministers
Argentina (2) Two presidents
Bangledesh (2) Two prime ministers
Central African Republic (2) One president, one prime minister
Guyana (2) One president, one prime minister*
Iceland (2) One president, one prime minister
India (2) One president, one prime minister
Ireland (2) Two presidents
Israel (2) One president, one prime minister
Liberia (2) Two presidents
Philippines (2) Two presidents
New Zealand (2) Two prime ministers
São Tomé and Príncipe (2) Two prime ministers
Sengal (2) Two prime ministers

*Switzerland has seen six female presidential terms, though two of those were held by the same woman. Guyana’s tally is also debatable, since their female prime minister and female president were the same person.

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