June 2017 Pop Culture Roundup

A bunch of items for June...

1. I'd been hearing so much acclaim for a recently-published graphic novel called My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris. Set against the backdrop of the tumultuous 60s, the book is written as a series of drawings and diary entries of a 10-year-old girl named Karen Reyes. She interprets the various people and events in her life--including a devout mother, free spirit brother, and beloved neighbor--through the lens of her favorite horror characters. Her neighbor's personal account of living through 1930s Germany as a Jew, as well as reactions in her own time to Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder, are woven into a gripping tale of self-discovery, standing up for oneself and others, and being genuine in relationships. This book was difficult to get a hold of because nobody can keep it in stock, and now I understand why. I look forward to Volume 2 being released early next year.

2. I also read Crazy Is My Superpower by AJ Mendez Brooks this month. Many may know the author by her WWE performer name AJ Lee. She was a favorite of mine when she was an active competitor, and I looked forward to reading this memoir, in which she shares the struggles of her family of origin, her pursuit of a dream to become a wrestler, and her wrestling with bipolar disorder. Brooks tells of learning a hard resolve to go after what she wants despite the setbacks she experienced, and shares that encouragement with her readers. Her story is heartbreaking and powerful, and she pulls no punches in describing the toll that poverty, mental illness, and complex family systems takes. In fact, that is where the title comes from as she draws from those experiences to help others see what they're like, and inspire people to transcend and learn from them.

3. We saw Wonder Woman on opening weekend. In some ways it's a standard superhero origin story, but with a depth and balance that I think can be elusive in movies like this. We meet Diana as a child on her home island, slowly coming of age and learning to be a warrior against her queen mother's wishes. Eventually she finds herself in the middle of World War I after a spy (Chris Pine) accidentally makes his way to her homeland. There is plenty of action, but we also see Diana struggle with who she is and who she wants to be among humankind. There is a strong undercurrent of our thirst for violence and the question of whether we're redeemable given such urges. This was easily the strongest of the recent "DC Universe" films, and Gal Gadot herself is a revelation as well.

4. I also finally saw Hidden Figures this month, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae as three NASA workers who end up playing major roles in the United States' first manned mission to space in 1961. Of course, the film touches on issues of both race and gender bias that these three face (from both white coworkers and black family and friends), while also set against the backdrop of the larger historical moment which includes fear of communism and the Civil Rights movement. It's an inspiring and funny and interesting depiction of how these three women contributed to an important moment in our country's history.

5. I binge-watched my way through the fifth season of Orange is the New Black the past couple weeks, which picks up right where the last left off with many of the inmates gathered in a hallway, Diaz pointing a gun at a guard that he'd dropped. The situation quickly escalates into a full riot, with the guards being rounded up and Poussey's friends wanting to get the truth out about her death. I really wanted to like what they did with this, with the entire season taking place over maybe 3-4 days and seeing the inmates make use of their newfound freedom and control in various ways. But there was a lot of filler and a fair amount of characters didn't really move forward in meaningful ways. There were some strong moments, but they remained moments in a span of 13 episodes.

6. After finally getting through Luke Cage last month, the final pre-Defenders series we had to get through in preparation was Iron Fist. And "get through" is the right term to describe my experience of it. We meet Danny Rand, just back from a 15-year hiatus and presumed dead. It turns out that he'd spent the entire time training with a mystical monastery to become the Iron Fist, a powerful fighter meant to combat a dangerous group called The Hand (first introduced in Daredevil). Danny just happens to be the son of a guy who co-founded a billion-dollar company, and the first few episodes are more about corporate positioning and cover-ups than anything martial arts-related. When we do finally start into Iron Fist vs. The Hand, it's still slow going until finally we reach the end and are now ready for The Defenders, which really was the only reason I sat through this whole thing.

7. I've been listening to The Morning Bell, the first LP from Jesus on the Mainline, a large ensemble that incorporates a wide variety of styles including rock, country, and folk. I enjoyed the EP they released a few years ago and knew they were working up to a full album. This is a great debut for them, and it was worth the wait. Here's one of my favorite tracks, "All We Ever Have:"



Book Review: Persecution Complex by Jason Wiedel

I now believe that Christians in America are not persecuted or oppressed. I will go so far as to say the persecution of American Christians is a myth, a fiction that serves to bind many American Evangelical communities together. It is a legitimizing force for our religious activities, a motivator for evangelism, and an excuse to behave badly toward those with whom we disagree. Worst of all, it distracts us from the real problems of human suffering, to which Jesus instructed his followers to attend. What many Christians perceive as persecution is actually fear of losing their privileged place in society, a fear that is exploited by the very people who have the most to lose from this shift in status. - Jason Wiedel, Persecution Complex

I was part of several campus ministry groups in college, several of which had some evangelical leanings. My junior year, a couple members worked to bring a Christian band to campus, which would include a speaker and opportunity for inviting attendees to talk one-on-one with those trained in the typical procedure of prayer and proselyzation that accompanied it.

A week or two before the concert was to be held, I happened upon a conversation in the student activity center where several of those who oversaw the scheduling of campus events were expressing their confusion as to what group was sponsoring this. I chimed in and told them to put my campus house organization's name on it, thinking this would resolve the situation. A few days later, the local church co-sponsoring this concert appeared on our doorstep saying the college told them they wouldn't be able to host due to paperwork not being filed properly. Rather than seek to reschedule while following proper procedures this time, we decided that this was an attempt to stifle Christian witness, and saw this as a call to fight back toward the oppressive administration seeking to silence us. In reality, we probably could have just filed some forms and been okay.

This felt need always to frame pushback against Christian ideas or actions as persecution has a long history and some suspect theology, not to mention that it can often be avoided as in the case of my group's concert. In Persecution Complex: Why American Christians Need to Stop Playing the Victim, Jason Wiedel explores why many Christians in the U.S. seem to constantly behave as if they're a put-upon minority when the opposite is often the case.

Wiedel begins by exploring where the persecution narrative comes from and how different groups, organizations, and individuals promote and perpetuate it. He examines what the world looks like from this perspective, the Biblical texts on which it is based, and some of the historical movements that have contributed to its rise including Dispensationalism, Christian fundamentalism of the late 1800s, the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, and the rise of the Religious Right in the 1980s. Wiedel illustrates how each of these helped stoke fear of losing ground to non-Christian ideas and behavior.

"Persecution Complex" actually serves as a double entendre for Wiedel, as not only does he use it to describe a mindset out of which people operate, but also an industry that helps perpetuate it through movies, books, and certain news outlets. Examples given include the recent God's Not Dead and Left Behind franchises, as well as the so-called "war on Christmas" that we inevitably hear about every December. Wiedel argues that a persecution narrative is profitable both financially for media companies, but also politically for candidates and parties that tap into it.

Wiedel examines why this narrative is so attractive, but also why it is so dangerous. He explores how this perspective can inspire people to band together against a common perceived enemy and take action against them. Again, this can come in handy for politicians but at its worst it can also be unquestioning and absolute, with persecution becoming equivalent to being right and just no matter what.

In both the early chapters and in the last, Wiedel argues against the validity of this perspective in several ways. First, he points out that what people call persecution is usually a loss of privilege: things like removing mandatory prayer from public school or a display of the 10 Commandments from a courthouse is less oppression and more making room for those with other religious beliefs or no belief. He also presents a theological case for why certain texts are misread by those who hold this narrative while stating that Christians' calling is more to help the poor and the downtrodden rather than seek to limit the rights of others or hang onto one's special place in society.

Wiedel presents a decent introduction to the Christian persecution complex, both as a personal mental state and as a framing of the world pushed by organizations and coalitions for the ultimate benefit of a few. I did not find parts of the book well-written: I didn't appreciate an early example he gives equating this perspective with schizophrenia, and some chapters are only a few pages and could have been fleshed out more or folded into other parts. But if you're looking for some basic insight into why many Christians believe they are persecuted despite continuing to enjoy cultural dominance in many ways, then this will still serve as a helpful beginner's guide.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Vintage CC: This Day in History

This Sunday is the 60th anniversary of my denomination, the United Church of Christ. I wrote this post back in June 2008 to make light of all the trouble the UCC has had educating people that it isn't the same as the Church(es) of Christ. I look forward to being at General Synod next week to celebrate this milestone.

Date: June 25, 1957
Scene:
A group of church members gathering in Cleveland, Ohio

Guy: All right, everyone. We've pretty much worked everything out except one detail. What shall we call this new church of ours? I propose that, since we are a newly united church, we should call ourselves the United Church of Christ.

Second Guy: Um...pardon me for a second.

Guy: Yes, you'd like to speak to the name?

Second Guy: Yeah, about that. Don't you think that if we called ourselves that, people might confuse us with the Church of Christ?

Guy: Why would people do that? It's a totally different church.

Second Guy: Well, yes, but Church of Christ, United Church of Christ...they're pretty similar.

Guy: You answered your own question. Clearly, our name has the word "United" in front of it.

Second Guy: But people might not get that they're different.

Guy: Of course they're different. They're just the Church of Christ. We're the UNITED Church of Christ.

Second Guy: I'm just saying that maybe we should think about something more distinctive...

Guy: We'd have the "United" in front, plus we use organs. No one could ever confuse the two.

Second Guy: I don't know, man...they seem pretty similar to me...

Guy: Not possible. People will be able to tell the difference. Our own members, non-members, the media, the governor of Connecticut...they'll all easily recognize that we're not the same and always call us by our proper name.

Second Guy: I'm not so sure...

Guy: Of course they will. UNITED Church of Christ. It's can't-miss. We'll never ever have to explain to anyone that they're different.

Second Guy: But is adding an extra word going to be enough? They still seem really close...

Guy: All in favor of "United Church of Christ" as our new name, say "Aye!"

Everyone Else: Aye!

Happy birthday, UNITED Church of Christ.

What is the Labyrinth?

Previously: What is the Examen?, What is Lectio Divina?, What is Fasting?

The first thing that you should know is that the labyrinth is not a maze. It annoys me when people refer to it as such, so I wanted to mention that right away.

Rather, a labyrinth is a single path with one entrance and one exit (which are the same), usually arranged in a circular pattern with the center designated as a place to stop, rest, pray, or reflect. Because of the way the path bends around itself in this traditional design, each layer of the path between the edge and the center is called a "circuit." The number of circuits helps the walker know how large and how long the labyrinth is.

There are two common numbers of circuits in a labyrinth. The "classical" design has seven circuits and dates back to ancient Greece, where it originated as part of a myth to keep the Minotaur contained. The other most well-known design is the 11-circuit labyrinth often called "Chartres-style," named after the Chartres Cathedral in France which helped popularize it.

Today's labyrinth practice is a form of pilgrimage, a time of spiritual reflection where the walking itself is an act of prayer. As you walk toward the center, you are journeying with God as your guide. You may or may not experience any grand revelation; the meaning is in the walking.

Here are a series of steps to observe when walking the labyrinth.

1. Stand at the entrance. Take several deep breaths in preparation for your walk. Say a brief opening prayer, asking God for guidance as you begin. If you come to the practice with a particular question or concern, include it in your prayer and then let it go, entrusting it to God as you walk.

2. Begin walking. Take your time; do not hurry toward the center or look too many steps beyond where you are. Focus on the walking, the movement. If you feel moved to pause, do so and let what inspired you run its course until you think it's time to continue. If others are walking at the same time, be mindful of them so that you may pass each other with minimal disruption. If a thought or insight comes to you while you walk, allow it to linger until it becomes a distraction, and then release it.

3. When you make it to the center, linger for as long as you like. Find a prayer posture that is comfortable for you, whether sitting or standing, arms raised or lowered. Much like as you were walking, remain with insights as long as necessary before letting them go. When you feel ready, begin your walk back out the way you came.

4. Much like your journey to the center, focus on the walking. Pause when moved to do so, be aware of fellow walkers.

5. When you reach the entrance, turn and face it. You may say a closing prayer of thanks or simply bow to acknowledge the conclusion of the exercise. It may be helpful to journal about the experience in order to process what happened. It may lead to further realizations about thoughts or feelings you had while doing it.

In my experience, the labyrinth can be useful particularly when sitting still to pray is not an option due to restlessness or temperament. It is a form of movement prayer, embodying the journey of faith on which we are constantly traveling.

Work consulted: Walking a Sacred Path by Lauren Artress

To My Self 15 Years Ago on His Wedding Day

Dear Jeff,

Greetings from your future, and congratulations on your--or, I guess our--special day. I'd acknowledge how much planning and effort has gone into today's festivities, but let's be honest: most of it wasn't yours. But you're here now, stomach full of chicken wings from the night before and not running on much sleep due to nerves, preparing to make things official with the woman you've come to know as the love of your life.

I'm sending you this letter because I want you to know some things about the next 15 years. I'll try to keep things spoiler-free with specifics, but if I can help you with some general points to expect or live by or beware of, I think it might help us both out.

First, call all your groomsmen right now and make sure they've eaten and are well-hydrated. Just trust me on this.

Second, don't worry too much about remembering anything from today. Your photographer will have you on a schedule that will make you believe it's more about everyone other than you. Just get through it. There will be more important memories to be made later on anyway.

Okay, now that I have the wedding advice out of the way, let's talk about the marriage.

You're going to be broke for a while. I don't think I'm spoiling anything by telling you this. You're a seminary student, she doesn't even have a job yet. And I know that you have visions in your head of living some kind of romantic hipster lifestyle in your little apartment where you're both going to be students cooking cute little trendy dishes for each other.

Let's just say it's going to be more complicated than that. In fact, finances will be one of your top struggles for a few years, and not only will it be a strain on what you can afford but on how well you'll support and understand each other as you each try to help make ends meet. That stat you once heard about money being a big cause of divorce is no joke. So pay attention to your spending and give her in particular a lot of leeway because she'll be the one doing the heavy lifting in this area while you prance to and from your classes. Seriously, man. Don't take this or her for granted.

And that leads me to my second thing: communicate. Tell her how you're feeling about things, whether stress about classes, frustration about school, what you're worried and excited about. Later on, tell her stories from your first job. Just share yourself as well and as completely as you can. I know how difficult this is for you; how much you worry about saying the wrong thing or being misunderstood. You get better at this even though you'll never stop worrying about it. But the more you talk about what you're thinking and feeling, the better she'll get where you're coming from. It still won't excuse some of the dumb stuff you're going to do over the years, but there's a good chance it'll help.

While you're at it, listen to her. All those ways I just told you to put yourself out there for her benefit, receive those same things from her with care. She's already better at doing this than you, but you also have to open yourself to what she's saying. She's got her own frustrations with school and career coming, and you have to be ready to hear her out. She's trusting you with this, and you should appreciate that.

Okay, here's one spoiler: you have kids. Two of them. And I can tell you they're both beautiful, hilarious, intelligent, curious, and fun, and they're two of the best outcomes of what you're doing today. I'd attach a picture, but I know that it'll just cause you to blubber your way through the vows later. And I'll save the parenting advice, because you'll get way more than you'll want or need when the time comes. Instead, I'll say this: the adjustment will take a while and at times be a pretty big strain. So keep three things in mind:

1. All that stuff I just said about sharing and listening? Keep doing that, except harder.

2. Make sure to keep being a couple, not just roommates with kids. They're really important, but not at your relationship's complete expense. You'll figure out how to do this, I'm just saying be prepared.

3. I mainly wanted to tell you about the children because holy crap, do things get amazing for the two of you. I mean really, I can't even describe with words how good it all gets. I mean, yeah, there are some frustrating times, but I could just keep going on and on about...

Sorry. Where was I?

Okay. Let me wrap this up, because this is getting long and the photographer will be coming for you any minute.

Enjoy your day. Really, enjoy it. There's a lot to celebrate and you and I both know how wonderful she is. And make sure you keep celebrating her long after today, when you're stuck eating Ramen for the third night in a row and when you're up with one of the babies again and when one of you are working late or have to get up stupid early and when you're enjoying geeky things together (They're going to bring back Doctor Who in a few years...start watching that as soon as they do instead of waiting for Netflix to pick it up. Wait, you don't even know what Netflix is yet. Just trust me, okay?).

It's not going to be perfect, but it's going to be worth it. And it'll take some work, growth, and change on your part to make it so. Be open to that, because she's going to make you better.

Congrats again,
Jeff

P.S. Seriously, call your groomsmen.

Pastoral Prayer for Responsible Creation Care

based on Psalm 8

O God, you have entrusted so much to our care: the wonders of the oceans, the beauty of mountains, trees, and fields, the clear blue of the sky, the well-being of species other than our own. Like the garden once entrusted to Adam and Eve, you have given us all that you have created with such care not just to do what we wish, but to nurture well for those born in the decades ahead. Just as you have shared this Earth with us for nourishment and enjoyment, so too is it meant for the generations that follow. Who are we that you have given us so much; that you love us so?

We confess that we don't consider the full weight of this responsibility. We tell ourselves that there will always be enough long into the future, that if problems arise they will be for those who come after us, that even if there isn't enough for others surely there will be enough for us. The implications of careful stewardship are often lost on us, and as a result not only does your creation suffer, but we suffer with it whether we're aware of it or not.

O God, make us mindful of what your beloved world needs. Empower us to rise to the task of our calling to see that the diversity of all you have made continues to thrive. Through our tending, may your name be made majestic as far as the stars, deep as the seas, and as close as our own hearts. Amen.

Millennials, Applebee's, and the Church

I've read too many articles about Millennials the past few years. Then again, people have also written too many. These articles range from blaming this generation for something to exploring how to court its interest.

Often, these two extremes appear in the same thinkpiece.

One of the most recent is that Millennials are apparently killing Applebee's:
"Millennial consumers are more attracted than their elders to cooking at home, ordering delivery from restaurants, and eating quickly, in fast-casual or quick-serve restaurants," Smith wrote.
...
Grocery chains are increasingly competing with restaurants, thanks to lower prices and perks such as pick-up and delivery, new technology, and trendy features like wine bars and to-go meals. And meal-delivery kits like Blue Apron are focused on getting millennials on subscription plans to persuade them to stay in and cook a certain number of days a week.

According to this article, going to a sit-down restaurant is not appealing to younger people as cooking at home, ordering from grocery stores or take-out places, or opting for quicker options at places like Chipotle or Panera. The experience of sitting in the booth of a restaurant surrounded by other people and strange decor while paying more is not what they prefer.

What can we deduce that they do prefer? The comfort of home, the choice one may hold by cooking themselves, the convenience of delivery, and fast production between other activities or obligations.

(I think there are also economic factors such as student debt and stagnant wages, but let's set those aside for now.)

To me, there are obvious parallels to some things that today's church is struggling with, at least in my experience. Not as many people are interested in commuting to a place surrounded by others and strange d├ęcor to nurture their spirituality. More and more are interested in exploring their faith from their homes, perhaps surrounded by a few close and trusted fellow pilgrims. I myself have been hearing a lot of wishes for greater convenience and faster production between kids' practices and other responsibilities.

I'm not excusing all of these changes and desires. As a pastor, some of them drive me crazy. But lamenting them won't fix what the church is facing.

How, instead, could the church re-imagine what it does to adapt to this new reality? The article above mentions that more and more restaurants are adding delivery services, as one solution to what they're dealing with. What sorts of equivalents might the church come up with?

More emphasis on small groups in homes, pubs, or coffeehouses?

More resources for those who want to study and pray on their own?

Live-streaming services or producing regular downloadable Bible study videos?

None of these are new or original. But these restaurants' problems are not so different from the church's. After we're done griping, how do we respond?

Small Sips Has More to Worry About

This gig's only going to get harder. You know all those articles and thinkpieces about how the church should be reaching out to Millennials? Well, Jonathan Merritt says forget those and start thinking about "Generation Z" instead:
For the last decade, church experts have been wrestling over the best ways to reach and retain “millennials,” which is a phrase the describes individuals born from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s. Data shows that many millennials leave the church during their college years, and some never return. The fastest growing religious identifier among this generation is “spiritual but not religious.”
But as millennials age, get married, and start families, they are no longer the only “young people” that churches must consider. A new cohort has risen: “Generation Z” or individuals born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Generation Z diverges from millennials in many ways and presents unique challenges and opportunities for churches who hope to capture their attention.
And what do those divergences include? The person Merritt interviews names things like their being the first truly "post-Christian" generation: they haven't really been raised in churches, and are religiously and Biblically illiterate. They don't have pre-conceived notions about what those things mean and they have no assumptions about why Christian belief, language, and practice are valuable.

This says to me that a lot more of the things traditional institutional churches think are important are going to need to find new justification for why they should continue. That was already something to consider with Millennials, but according to this article, it will be taken to another level with those after them.

But wait, there's more. Speaking of churches finding new justification for things, Anita Little says that a lot of those things just plain aren't going to appeal to Generation Z. Like, at all:
Most churches are not “well-equipped” to “meet the needs of Generation Z” because, as institutions, many of them have been slow to embrace, or outright hostile to, the increasingly progressive philosophies Gen Z espouses.
It isn’t just “technology,” as White argues, it’s how Gen Z uses that technology to broaden its worldview and find value in belief systems beyond the walls of the church and Christianity itself. It may not always lead to disaffiliation, but it certainly contributes to it.
The feasibility of White’s goal of bringing in Gen Z successfully is dubious at best, as many churches are not meaningfully addressing the social issues that matter the most to Gen Z. How they lost Millennials is exactly how they will lose the tweens.
As Little observes, this has been a common argument for Millennials as well. They tend to view things like sexuality and race more progressively than many churches, and aren't going to want to join institutions that don't share those values and concerns. While her analysis focuses on evangelical churches, there's a lot of crossover for mainline/oldline/whatever churches, too.

And hey, let's do another. Karl Vaters has a slightly more optimistic take on Generation Z (and many others who are older) being first-generation believers, and lists some reasons this group has been a benefit for his approach to ministry:
1. I can't assume even the simplest biblical understanding
...including what the Bible actually is. So, in addition to teaching from the Bible, I always teach them something about the Bible.
Also, I don’t use phrases like “we all know the story of…” to summarize a Bible lesson.
And I never assume that everyone owns a Bible. Instead, we make free Bibles available and I tell them the page number where they can find Ephesians.
Because of this, I have to (and get to) teach the basics more often.
I think that this really gets at the heart of how to begin approaching what the other two articles point out: churches need to completely give up the assumption that younger generations will know anything about the Bible, will have absorbed any of the Christian lingo, will have any attachment to or appreciation for the rubrics of worship or prayer or anything else related to belief or practice. It's not going to be there, and if we operate insisting that it is, we're not going to make a connection.

This article has already started to influence my own approach to such things, and I'm sure I'll be returning to it often.

Something different, but no less important. Alex Myles has an important piece on the attraction between an empath and a narcissist:
What the empath fails to realise is that the narcissist is a taker. An energy sucker, a vampire so to speak. They will draw the life and soul out of anyone they come into contact with, given the chance. This is so that they can build up their own reserves and, in doing so, they can use the imbalance to their advantage.
This dynamic will confuse and debilitate an empath, as if they do not have a full understanding of their own or other people’s capabilities, they will fail to see that not everyone is like them. An empath will always put themselves into other people’s shoes and experience the feelings, thoughts and emotions of others, while forgetting that other people may have an agenda very different to their own and that not everyone is sincere.
The further I get away from it, the more I realize that I was in a relationship like this, where I was the empath constantly trying to validate, provide for, and give to a narcissist. The way this article describes how such a relationship plays out fits what I went through to an amazing and perfect degree.

I'm still processing and kicking myself for things that happened, and this was years ago. Please take the time to read that whole thing so you can watch for the warning signs and avoid it happening to you.

Speaking of toxic features of relationships. Layton Williams reflects on the question, "Who owns a pastor's body?":
Whether consciously or not, the “ideal pastor” image celebrates maleness over other genders. It celebrates heterosexuality, able-bodiedness, fitness, and married status. In my denomination, at least, it also celebrates whiteness over other races. When we are criticized for something in our appearance or personal lives, it is almost always based on how we fail to live up to these normative ideals of identity — which, it’s worth noting, have nothing at all to do with faithfulness or morality.
Female clergy experience this reality to a particularly complex and intense degree. Though nearly every pastor I know has received some unwelcome commentary, most of the clergywomen I know get comments on a regular basis. This is especially true for those of us who are young and single and, in my case, further complicated by assumptions about my bisexuality. The lenses through which women clergy are viewed and evaluated are compounded by sexism. On some level, many people encounter us with distrust and judgment for our inability to fully embody the image of a male pastor. Our voices are critiqued for pitch and vocal fry. Our hairstyle is regulated more ardently than our theology.
I've received comments over the years like the ones Williams mentions. I've heard about my age, my weight, my looks, and what I've chosen to wear on various occasions. Usually I can shrug it off, but I can't always differentiate between someone offering a harmless compliment vs. someone attempting to assert control over my lifestyle, appearance, or authority.

As Williams mentions, it gets way more complicated for women than for men. I've heard a lot of awful stories from woman colleagues over the years along these lines, and they've never been helpful. Churches need to be educated about what's really appropriate to say.

Accurate. David Hayward shares this helpful chart:


Also accurate. Jon Pavlovitz has an answer to those who say progressive Christians should read their Bibles. That answer is, "I did, and that's why I'm progressive:"

When another Christian instructs someone else to “read the Bible,” or “take it to prayer,” or to “ask God to reveal the truth to you,” they usually mean, “Do all of these things until you get it right—until you agree with me.” They are assuming their version of study and reflection are more valid than another’s.
And this is the beauty of Progressive Christianity: it doesn’t insist that others agree with it, it doesn’t claim superiority, and it holds its conclusions loosely. That doesn’t mean it has arrived at its present place impulsively, lazily, or ignorantly. Quite the contrary. I’ve met thousands of Christians who hold more liberal positions on all sorts of topics, who didn’t begin that way. They have come to those positions after years or even decades of careful, prayerful, faithful exploration. They are as intelligent, invested, and earnestly seeking as their more orthodox brethren.
I won't defend the claim in the above that progressive Christians don't claim superiority, because I certainly have seen some who do. But the notion that Christians who come to more liberal stances on various social issues just need to read the Bible more is incredibly flawed. The Bible is such a rich, varied, and challenging collection of texts that it certain things aren't as clear-cut as many believe, and there is such an extensive call to help the poor and downtrodden such that many Christians who call themselves progressive have come to these positions by reading the very book others insist they haven't.

Misc. Jonathan Merritt again on why, given author Jen Hatmaker's recent struggles, he'd take her over her critics any day. Jan Edmiston asks, "When I say 'poor people,' what do you picture?" Ryan Phipps on the paradox of pastoring. Scott Johnson with a theological take on Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Elsa Anders Cook on journaling daily observations.