Clergy Burnout with Lisa Sharon Harper | Podcast Season 02, Episode 07
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In this episode of our Clergy Burnout series, we’re joined by Lisa Sharon Harper, founder and president of Freedom Road, which helps organizations in multiple sectors do justice. She’s a speaker, writer, and most recently the author of Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World. She also hosts the Freedom Road podcast and co-hosts The FOUR podcast.
Co-hosted by Kate Rae Davis, MDiv, and Rose Madrid Swetman, this episode digs into the systemic and cultural norms that have influenced the roles of our pastors. Lisa begins by defining the role of a pastor, which she says is to “not only to help us to connect with God on a personal level, but to help us all to understand our relationship with God and how that needs to impact our relationship with each other and the rest of creation.” If our pastors can truly focus on protecting the image of God, particularly in the “least of these” in our communities – and if we, as congregants, will support them in doing so – then many of the pressures that lead to burnout could be abated.
In this conversation, Lisa invites us to consider the impacts of a Western version of Christianity and reimagine what the Kingdom of God truly looks like, starting with honoring and defending the image of God in all humans.
Each episode, we’re asking our guest to highlight an organization that is doing good work. This week, Lisa calls our attention to several organizations:
- Red Letter Christians
- Justice Revival
- Be the Bridge
- Christians for Social Action
- Matthew 25 SoCal
- The Voices Project
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About our Guest:
Lisa Sharon Harper (MA, Columbia University; MFA, University of Southern California) is the founder of Freedom Road, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap. A sought-after speaker, trainer, and consultant with more than 100,000 social media followers, Harper has written several books, including the critically acclaimed The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right. Her work has been featured in the New Yorker, Relevant, Essence, HuffPost, The National Civic Review, and CNN, and she has appeared on PBS’s Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, TV One, Fox News, NPR, and Al Jazeera America. Harper previously served as chief church engagement officer at Sojourners, where she led campaigns on immigration reform and racial justice. She has researched her family’s origins for three decades and presented on her ancestors’ achievements at the African American Civil War Museum. Harper lives in the same Philadelphia neighborhood where three generations of her ancestors lived.
You can find Lisa on Instagram and Twitter @lisasharper
Kate: Welcome to Transforming Engagement, the podcast where we have conversations about changes that serve the common good and a higher good. Today we’re speaking with Lisa Sharon Harper, the founder and president of Freedom Road, which helps organizations in multiple sectors do justice. She’s a speaker, writer, and most recently the author of Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World. She also podcast with Freedom Road podcast and The Four. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us today.
Lisa: It’s an honor to be here. Kate, thank you for inviting me. Really fun to be in conversation with your audience as well. So, you know, I look forward to feedback.
Kate: Yeah, absolutely. So I think this season is clergy burnout and there’s a lot of directions to go there. And I think, you know, your work with helping organizations do justice and the intersection of clergy is kind of be a starting point –of what do you see as the role of clergy in doing justice in the world today?
Lisa: Well, I mean, I think that when we when we ask the question of what is the gospel, what is what is at the heart of our faith? What I’ve come to understand as the gospel is the fact that Jesus, the king of the kingdom of God, has come, and has come in order to set the image of God free on Earth from the oppressions of the kingdoms of men. That is the good news. And I’ve come to understand that you–you would know my process in that by reading my, my last book or my second last book, The Very Good Gospel. And it was really a pilgrimage that I went on about almost 20 years ago. Now it’s like literally 19 years ago. And that pilgrimage changed everything of the way that I see it. But what I’ve come to understand is that that’s the gospel, and if that’s the gospel, then what are, what clergy are, are charged to do, are, is to protect the image of God. If that’s what Jesus came to do. And clergy are leading God’s sheep, you know, shepherding the sheep, moving the sheep toward the kingdom of God. And that means the clergy are shepherding the sheep out from under the oppressive thumb of empire and colonization and oppression and exploitation and hunger and poverty. The clergy are ushering the sheep into wholeness and wellness and, and away from those things that were that would compound trauma. And that means that that clergy’s role in society is very much not only to help us to connect with God on a personal level, but to help us all to understand our relationship with God and how that needs to impact our relationship with each other and the rest of creation.
Kate: Preach. I can’t. Keep going. Your opening frame there of the King of the kingdom that undoes our kingdoms, transcends the political divides. It’s not about whether you’re blue or red, left or right. It’s it’s something that’s so far beyond that. It’s such a bigger imagination. I actually feel really excited just listening to you talk about it.
Lisa: Well, I mean, I think that when you understand politics, right, and how it works through time, you really can’t be married to any one party, because if you plant your flag in a party’s soil, you will find yourself within one or two generations surrounded by people who you don’t recognize, who don’t actually share your values. That’s exactly what has happened within the Republican Party right now. It actually is also what happened within the Democratic Party, you know, turn of the century. And that’s why the Southern Dixiecrats left the Democratic Party, because they realized there had been a huge shift. The Democrats were the ones who were trying to enslave people in the South. They were a southern-based party. And they, they came out of the Confederacy. Before that, they were they were the establishment in our nation. They were the original party. But there was a major shift that happened in the mid-century after World War II with the rise of human rights. And the Democratic Party began to embrace human rights and began to call for human rights. And that was a threat to southern slave-ocracy as it was being realized through Jim Crow. And they left. They started the Dixiecrats party. They, they failed. So they came back. But then the passage of the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act was just too much for them. And so they left forever. And they found their way eventually through dog whistle politics and all. And also promises to restore white male domination. They found their way to the Republican Party throughout the 1970s and particularly 1980s. And so, you know, marriage to a party doesn’t make sense. What we need to be married to is shalom, is the call of the Kingdom of God, the call of God to to restore the very good, the overwhelming wellness of all relatedness in relationships in creation, the relationship between humans and God, between us and each other and all the genders, and between us and the rest of creation, between nations, between ethnic groups, and between us and life itself and the systems that govern us. These, all of these relationships, were overwhelmingly good in the very beginning. And actually that’s why, that’s what took me into the further explore, exploration from The Very Good Gospel into Fortune, my last book that just came out in February, I wanted to know how does this work its way out? How does the breaking of shalom and the shalom-making work its way out within my own family story?
Rose: So powerful. I mean, so powerful. That framing is so very beautiful. And I would say in some segments of clergy, depending on denominational affiliations and all of that, clergy that are trying to preach “the very good gospel” get such a backlash and accused of playing politics because of what you just described, that somehow the overlay of our, of some denominations, nondenominational churches, the overlay has become so, so many levels of cultural and social issues that we, if you try to get below that and preach “the very good gospel” about what you just described, pastors are obliterated.
Lisa: Well, I think what it, what it is, is that pastors were silent for too long and pastors did not say anything for generations. And as a result, you know, who wins, the ones who are the loudest voice they win. And the loudest voices have been our news stations, particularly Fox News, when we’re talking about white evangelicals and, and political pundits, political punditry, they’re watching those things 24-7 and go to church once a week when it’s, when the pastor is silent and doesn’t call out the falsehoods of the of or even the damage that has done to the image of God or –and doesn’t even preach on the image of God, doesn’t have a theology or teach a theology of the image of God to their people. Then their people really have no theological tools with, through which they can actually discern the world and discern the news and understand of the news. If the policies that their party are pushing are going to, are going to be oppressive to the image of God or not. So pastors, the silence of pastors over the last four decades, since the since the rise of the religious right and the complicity of many pastors and whole denominations with that rise is is why we are where we are right now. But I don’t want to divorce, I don’t want to erase the reality that there are many pastors out there, many who who continue to preach “the very good gospel,” who actually are taking hits from their congregation, have lost money, and lost people willingly because they are more jealous for the glory of God, which comes in the flourishing of the image of God, then they are jealous for money.
Rose: Okay, I just love that too. And honestly, this whole conversation I’m so happy to have, like what you again just described brings me back to, like, the first three commandments about God’s image. And a lot of times, like, not taking the name of God in vain. I feel like that’s not about cussing. I mean, I mean, I do. And so and I’m a I’m a pastor. And it’s not about that. How are we bearing the image of God? As image bearers, how are we bearing that image? And it’s more to that than it is about our words.
Lisa: I love that ‘cause what it means to be a representative, what it means to be an image of God, it literally means, and the text, it is the word salaam, and it means “representative figure”. Right now the thing is, what you got to get, is back in the day in the ancient times, when those original readers or hearers would have heard those words, let all humankind be made in the image of God as representative figures of God, they would have been like: What? That’s a revolutionary concept. Because only the kings and queens up to that point were endowed with the image of God, only they were supposed to be the representative figures of God. But here on the first page of the Bible, we have them literally doing a revolutionary act by moving their pen across the page, their pen, the proverbial pen, you know, across the page. And, and declaring for all time that every human being is a representative figure of God. Now, here’s the thing. The way that the ancients understood the image of the king, was that wherever that image of the king was, was a marker of where that king ruled. And the health of those images was an indicator of the health of the kingdom. So if you had lots of images everywhere, you know, of Caesar even or Pharaoh, which is why you have the Sphinx and all the –when you have lots of images and they are in perfect tact, then, you know, wow, this is a flourishing kingdom. But if you have images that are that are crushed, twisted, melted down, erased, obliterated, you know, there has been war against that kingdom. So pastors, who are charged, their charge is to guard the flock, that is their job, is to shepherd the sheep. And guess what? Each one of those sheep bears the image of God. Each one of those sheep is a representative figure of God on Earth. Each one of those sheep represents where God rules on Earth. And so each one, not only the white ones. And I think one of the reasons why or one of the one of the tactics actually or modus operandi within white majority churches for pastors to, to survive it actually, and to not burn out one of their tactics to not burn out is, to placate to the loudest white voices, the loudest white images of God, to to to cater to them, cater to the white images of God and their sensibilities, rather than, oh, and not only that, but Jesus actually flips the script completely. Jesus says, whatever you do to the least of these images of God, to the least of these, to the least represented, to the least deserving, even, to the least you have done to me. So do to the least, focus on the least, if if those same pastors in white congregations, white evangelical congregations over the last four years, had focused on the one or two Black families or Latino families or Asian families in their midst, and they were focused on making sure they were flourishing, then maybe they would have been more open to the Gospel of Brown Jesus, colonized Jesus, indigenous Jesus, whose people were serially enslaved. Maybe they would have sought out an understanding of the text that rises from people, from those people groups from oppressed, colonized, enslaved people groups, and and served all of the sheep with food that was prepared by Brown Jesus. Now I see that as being exactly what they did in Acts 6. In Acts 6, they actually gave the the job of serving all the people to the least of these, to the ones who were being oppressed. They said, okay, now it’s your job to serve the food to all. So if pastors were jealous for the image of God in all, then they would serve and focus in on the least of these.
Kate: The Acts 6 moment also highlights the system’s issues with even how and who we recruit to do the work of pastoring. In my own denomination, they asked me. I left ordination process after I was asked for a sixth year of unpaid work, and I’m middle class, but I’m not independently wealthy and I can’t keep doing this. Internship that then became internship after internship after internship. Six years. So like, who ends up getting through in that system are people who do have wealth or have a spouse who works in an industry that is wealthy and it’s the exact opposite. And even, you know, our ordination processes, which can be three or four years undergrad, three or four years graduate school, and then sometimes more fieldwork on top of that, by the time you actually get to an ordained position, it’s often, filters out anyone who would be in that oppressed, least-of-these category because they don’t have the resources to make it through. We’ve we’ve entirely, we’ve gone, we flipped what the Acts 6 Church was doing, which is to say we’ve recreated the powers of of our field, of academia, of political powers, continuing to privilege the people who already have privilege.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, I absolutely agree. I mean, I think that we just need, we need to ask the question of what is what is the job? What’s the job? If the job is to sustain a building and paychecks and all of those things, if the job is is to build an empire, you know, a little mini fiefdom, then yeah. Then you sacrifice people. I mean, that’s that’s just that’s you have to sacrifice images of God because that’s what empires do. They sacrifice images of God. They war with God for supremacy, actually. They make demands that are not the demands that God would make, counter to the demands that God would make on us. But if the job is to feed the sheep, right, if the job is to shepherd all of the images of God, including the least of these and and and actually focusing in on especially the least of these. Well, then, if you have some folks who make a ruckus and decide that they’re going to leave and they take their money with them, well, you be like, water, you get around the rock. You know? I mean, you figure out another way to do it. And if you lose the building, then you meet in, you meet in houses. And you get a second job because that’s what it was required them, in order to follow Brown, colonized, indigenous, serially-enslaved Jesus.
Kate: Your, that that that job description of pastor’s the one who brings wellness, feeds the sheep. tends to the least. And doing that in all the categories named earlier the human god, human human, human nature, nation, nation. It’s such a beautiful – when you speak to it, I’m like, Oh yeah, that’s what I want to do, attend to wellness and then I take a breath and I realize, Oh, that is such tiring work. That is exhausting work. What are some of the challenges that it is?
Lisa: Yeah, it is. It is exhausting.
Kate: What are some of the challenges that you see? You do a lot of mentoring and are involved in many different churches lives. What are some the challenges to that leaders well-being that you see come up when they’re in this work, and maybe to your point of pastors were silent for too long, maybe when they’re stepping into this work for sometimes the first time, I.
Lisa: I think, I want to name a few. The first one, just going back to the question of, of really, what is our job, right? And, and the question of, what are we going to center in our work? Are we centering keeping our job or are we centering around Jesus? I think that the greatest challenge there is to keep Jesus centered. And when we, you know, for me that has I have overcome the need to be liked and even understood. I’ve overcome it. And I overcame it when I was, when I spoke truth and, you know, was just raked over the coals for it by people who I thought were allies but found out were not, and lost friends, lost relationships, organizational relationships. Right. So I lost that. And I realized, you know, it wasn’t the end of the world and I left with my integrity. And they work to this day, you know, to, they just don’t even think about it, they can’t think about it because if they did, then they would have to face it. And, you know, they don’t want to face it. So, but they’re not my responsibility. They’re God’s responsibility. My responsibility is to speak the truth, and to lead people toward the kingdom of God. That’s my responsibility. And if I see the kingdom of God and it’s clear to me this is the direction I need to say it, even if it’s going to lose my – lose me friends in relationships. Now what I have also found is that on the other side of losing the relationships that I thought were my center, my core, like, oh my gosh, if I lose this, I’ll be nothing. I’ll, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll, you know, shrivel up and die. What I found is that God brings new ones. And actually, by standing in the truth, you actually become a better witness of the Kingdom of God and one that people are actually hungering for. So your church, though, it might take a dip, it will come back. It will come back in new form. It’ll come back in a form that’s actually closer to the form, that is not. that that that decolonization requires. And I think the work of the church, if the work of the church over the last 500 years has been the work of reformation, reformation, then the work of the church for the next 500 years is decolonization. And that is to decolonize the way we see the texts, the way we understand our faith. We, in the in the US and throughout the Western world, we follow a Western version of Christianity. They had a very particular history, made very particular decisions based on very particular issues and problems that were happening in a particular context. But if you take, if you go to Ethiopia, let’s say, or you go to other regions of the world that are not, that were not formed by Western Christianity or Western Christian thought or have, you know, have have put that aside in order to find their their own connection to Brown colonized indigenous Jesus. You’ll find that, that Calvin is not God–imagine that!– and Luther is not God. They’re really great people who were still deeply fallible and human and had great ideas and also had ideas that that either said nothing to the transatlantic slave trade, which should be an indication that it’s not the end all be all. Like literally, Calvin’s Switzerland was silent and actually not even silent, but made bank on the transatlantic slave trade. His Calvinism did not stop it, did not even speak to it. So how could that be when you have 10 million images of God carted from one continent to the next, that a whole stream of the faith is silent, and because it’s silent, its people make bank on it. They become wealthy, right. That there’s something wrong, there’s something wrong with that, that that stream of the faith, if that if that is the case, and that’s okay, there’s something wrong with every–because it’s all it all comes from human thought and in particular place at a particular time to deal with a particular issue. So the work of decolonization is to identify– how were these decisions made? Who benefited from these decisions? How does this actually comport with how the original hearers would have or might have read it, heard it, understood it? How does it comport with the political context that the original hearers and writers were in as they were writing it? Would this actually lay? Would this Calvinist or this Lutheran or this white European interpretation of the text lay down and Jesus’s colonized contexts where over 500 people in his hometown of Galilee were crucified in, per every day for multiple days, and 2000 in one day because they tried to rise up against Caesar in the year Jesus was born. Right? So what does it say to that? Or how does, how does this white interpretation jive with that reality? What does it have to say to that reality? Because you better believe if that happened the year Jesus was born, he had something to say to that, and he did. It was the very first speech he ever made Luke 4: I’ve come to free the oppressed and set the prisoner free. That wasn’t just about setting people free who stole something, that was mostly political prisoners.
Kate: The the the call to context.
Kate:I think so much of us so much of our national conversation around politics and religion gets so stuck on the criticism and everything that went wrong. And the criticism is an abyss. You can keep going down into it forever. And there’s something actually really satisfying about it. But what I appreciate about your your call is– what’s next? So the whole thing is always in process. Then all of it is created, all of it is always being created. It’s not just about criticizing Calvin or Sweden or anything that happened, but saying, What do we do now? How do we do now? What’s the corrective? What’s the next iteration? And that’s such a different question than just looking back. It’s a much more hopeful question. And in some ways I actually feel it’s such a risky question. There’s so much more possibility of pain for disappointment, for not being able to correct. And I think I’m actually feeling in the moment like it’s actually, I can see why we want to stay in criticism, but the call to create something different, which in some ways is such an energetic act, such a creative act, I’m, I’m realizing, when we talk about burnout as often being connected to isolation, which you touched on with abandonment, when people leave and you speak the truth, it’s, it’s not just an issue of isolation. It’s, you can’t imagine a way forward when it’s just you.
Lisa: Well, I had a very profound, I had a very profound moment. About a year and a half ago. I was speaking, I was charged to speak for, for a large nonprofit advocacy agency on, on race, and the history of race, and how it connects with our theology. And as I thought about it, I got, I was asking myself, because I actually very strongly do believe we need to look back in order to look forward, it’s a West African, actually South African, view of the world, Sankofa, and ubuntu, West African actually sorry, and so we, me, as I was imagining looking backwards and asking the question, so when was the point when people of Western descent, particularly European descent, did not go to a land and imagine themselves to be the ones who should be ruling there? Like what? What is that time? What is when was that time when white folk weren’t white, they were just English or Swedish or Lithuanian or whatever. And they would go somewhere and they would not imagine that they should rule. And I, I really literally rack my brain. I was like, when was that? When is that? When is that time? And then it hit me. You have to go back beyond the Greek empire. The Greek empire was the beginning and from that point forward, mostly because of their their philosophers, Aristotle being probably chief among them, but also Plato, who was Aristotle’s teacher. You, you come to– that’s where you come to the place where people of European descent did not go all over the world and imagine that they should rule. So that brought me, it had gave me a huge A ha. That wait a minute– that means that it’s been more than 3,000 years since people of European descent have experienced life in the world through lenses that did not imagine they should rule. So talk about there’s no common memory among people of European descent of that reality or that, that that way of being in the world. Now, what gives me hope is the fact that we are all human, and as humans we have the ability to choose. We have agency. That’s what it means to be human, is that we have the ability to exercise dominion. Dominion is simply agency. That’s really all it is, the ability to make choices that impact the world. It’s what it means to be human, which means people of European descent are still human, which means they can still choose to let go of the need to control and define everything. And they can. And it’s going to take work, real work, internal work, and also systemic work and structural work. But it really, but I think first, it needs it takes imagination. It takes the imaginative work, the work of imagining a new way of being together in the world. And, and that that’s what you’re talking about. That’s what we’re talking about here, is imagining a new way of interacting with each other in the world. And that will require truth telling about the past. It will require real truth seeking and centering the voices and the stories and the experiences and the views of those who have been on the underside of colonization and impoverishment and exploitation and slavery. And it will it will require taking our all of our very bodies before the throne of God or the, the, the the La-Z-Boy of God, because the big cushy chair of God, you know, where we get up into God’s arms and and God and God says to us, it’s okay, I got you. You know what I mean? I got you. And yes, there’s there’s real cost to this way, we’ve been living, this way of domination we’ve been living in the world. But guess what? That’s why I rose again. That’s what the resurrection is all about. It makes the cost possible to pay. It makes it possible for us to tell the truth about our history, and then to live true and to a new way, a new future. And for pastors, I think the primary struggle or challenge in that, is going to be really, I mean, I think, you know, along with what we just talked about is also going to be the struggle to lay down, you know, their own expectations of what it means to be a pastor, that it means to be in control. It means to be the popular one. It means to be paid well. It means to be in, not out. It means to you know, sometimes we do things for all kinds of reasons and pastors have noble and, and, and theologically good reasons. They want to feed the sheep, they are called. And sometimes there’s ego involved and ego can get in the way of decolonization. Ego builds empire. Ego colonizes. Ego seeks to control in order for ego to be safe. But decolonization requires that that there’s a major shift in the why of pastoring, that the pastoring cannot be centered on me and what what I get out of it. It has to be centered on the freeing of the image of God.
Rose: So important, so important. So for clergy, especially in white churches, where would you recommend there, beginning of this, regaining this imagination, this exploration? Where do they start?
Lisa: Well, you know, I had pastors come up to me whenever I would speak back in the mid mid-2000s, I was speaking a lot on the image of God and also on shalom. And they would come up to me and say, you know, where can I find that ,where can I find that? There’s actually a lot of people who have written about it now. There were very few people who had written about it then, shalom itself. I would say Walter Brueggemann is a must. Also, Yoder is a must. They had the two books that really formed my, that gave kind of a foundation. They didn’t form it, but they gave me a foundation of what shalom is. And Shalom is simply what the Kingdom of God smells like. It’s what it requires of its citizens. Right. But I would say I wrote the book, The Very Good Gospel, in order to have a place where you can go and kind of get all of that and then have it as a jumping off point to go deeper. So I would actually point pastors to The Very Good Gospel first because it’s a great jumping off point, a point, a place to to kind of be introduced to the biblical concept of shalom. And then you can go deeper from there. And I would actually say, okay, from there, one of the things that you’re going to need to understand is you’re going to need to understand how our faith how our faith interplays with history. And and then I would actually take you, I would say the 1619 Project is going to be a must for you to read. I would say Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is a must to read. If you haven’t already read that. And I would say Fortune, Fortune, How Race Broke My Family and the World is a must, because what I did in that in that writing was to trace how how this political and theologically sanctioned concept of race, racial hierarchy, broke the image of God in the world. So my hope is that as you journey through my family’s story, you’ll begin to understand the impact, the cost of these hierarchies, of human belonging, all of them on your congregants, and therefore be better equipped to to be agents of healing of the image of God among the sheep that you are called to shepherd. I would say from there, it’s really important and there’s lots of other books. Forgive me. I’m, there’s no way that I can say them all.
Rose: Oh, no.
Lisa: There’s another actually really great book. I’m going to be talking about tonight at Red Letter Christians: Becoming Rooted by Randy Woodley. Randy Woodley is an incredible missiologist, not even a missiologist, but he’s a theologian and he is just an amazing thinker about indigeneity and the call for us to be become re-rooted to place and people and that I would contend and actually do and in Fortune that that it is the disconnection from place and people that, that’s where whiteness as a construct began, and Blackness as well because they were born in the same breath, and that’s where our identities became circled. The question of who has power and who doesn’t, as opposed to where are we from and who are our people? And that corrective is really important. So I would say read Randy Woodley’s work, all of it. Um.
Kate: Yeah, I, I mean, I’m hearing a bit of ties back to our clergy burnout theme, that there’s, your shifting my frame of burnout, which I, I think so much of our work, you know, we do train in resilience is, how do you be resilient to not burn out, or what do you do to make meaning from a burnout experience you’ve had? And I’m going to give a summary of how I’m hearing this conversation and let you correct it or nuance it. But I’m hearing as white pastors, primarily white pastors, awaken to these realities, to the systems that we’re in, for them to begin to speak truth, will have consequences that will be hard. You’ve talked about the financial, you’ve talked about the further isolation and abandonment, and that the moment where it feels like your church might fall apart entirely because of those two things, and you’re shifting my expectation that it’s going to be hard, that to be adopted into the kingdom, to be adopted into a way of being in the world that isn’t in control, is going to feel really painful. And that maybe if that’s an expectation, it can, then a burnout experience might actually be a healthy sign on the way to a new kingdom, and might actually start to look more like resurrection.
Lisa: Yeah, I think that the ultimately the question is burnout from what? Right. So if your burnout is coming from trying to keep this empire together that you’ve built, and trying to be all things to all people, well, you’re not burned out from kingdom work, you’re burned out from empire work. And that is the choice then, is whether or not you’re going to follow Jesus or continue to build and protect your empire. If you are burned out from– and which is also very possible– if burned out from the protests and the standing on the line and the losing of your congregants and the white men in particular, and the women who support them, who are fighting for control of your church by taking money away or threatening money, if that is what is burning you out, well, then I would say, I mean, literally, you probably should go on sabbatical, and you probably should should release, release, release or at least a vacation, like or put into your– and or put into your weekly regimen your weekly practices silence, space. It’s more than Sabbath. It’s Sabbath, yes, but I want to say it’s more than Sabbath, because it’s really a daily practice and a weekly practice. But it’s the practice of silence. It’s the practice of solitude. It’s the practice of communion with the spirit of God. So that when those other voices come in, that you are already rooted and grounded with the one relationship that really matters. And you have a very strong sense of your call. When you have a strong sense of your call to protect the least of these, then none of that stuff, you expect it, and it actually doesn’t really hit you as much. It’s just a part of, part of the work, because people will always rise when they lose power over you, right? Over the ability to control you. And as a result, because you’re the pastor, control the church and you’ve got to expect that and actually even allow them to go. But then, pray, ask that God would send people who are looking for a place where they can actually be led toward the actual kingdom, they can be led into the way of Brown Jesus, you know, the way of colonized, decolonizing Jesus, and, and God will send them. God will send them.
Rose: Lisa, you just said something that I have heard in a number of denominational leader spaces, trying to counsel pastors to be very careful what they post on social media, because we have to be all things to all people. We have Republicans, we have white supremacists, we have Democrats, we have, we have all those in our congregations. And so we we have to be pastors to all of those people. What do you say to that?
Lisa: I would say in the 1990s, if you said that, I could understand it, even though I would disagree even then. But I could understand it, because, ah, we had two functioning, at least semi-functioning parties, right. 1970s, even more so, semi functioning parties. In the sixties we actually had two very functional parties. But that has completely eroded. We are not there any more. Pastors have to understand that they will be held accountable by God, like they are the protectors of the image of God on earth. That is their job, and they will be held accountable by God for how they protected the least of these within their congregations. And I don’t just mean, you know, in their worship whether or not they’re doing gospel music or is it all hymns or is it is it all, you know Hillsong? What I mean is, the policies that are being passed on a state level, on a national level, on a local level, and school board level. How is that impacting the children of your congregants? How is it impacting your congregants, your Black and brown congregants? Is it making it so that, it’s immigration policy, making it so that they can’t they can’t go anywhere because they’re not able to to get papers if they are undocumented? Or is it making it so that they can’t flourish because they have to hide in shadows or they’re afraid for their auntie who doesn’t have papers, and so they hide in shadows. Is it, is it that the policies that are being passed have, have created more poverty among people of African descent? Or, for example, during COVID-19, when the President demanded that “essential workers” which really were not essential workers, you saw that when he didn’t protect those workers with PPE and said it was essential work. Right. And they demanded these people go out and do that work without protection. If you’re a pastor who has people in your congregation who work in some of those chicken plants or work in some of those meatpacking plants or or work at Walmart or work at some of these essential or even at a hospital. And, and that the policy being handed down from the top is that we’re not going to provide what these people need to keep themselves safe. Then you as a pastor, your job is to speak up. That’s your job because your job, according to God, is to protect the image of God to, protect the dignity, to protect the wellness of all, all of the people in your congregation. Now, if you get called a liberal because of that, so to the frickin be it excuse my French, but so be it because that’s if, that is what it is means to be liberal in today’s society, which is not what it meant to be liberal 40 years ago or a hundred years ago. If that’s what it means, then okay. I mean, call me a liberal, but actually what I really am is I am a protector of the image of God. That’s what I really am. What I really am is a follower of Jesus. That’s what I really am. What I really am is a citizen of the Kingdom of God, the reign of God who demands that I protect God’s image. So, so if you call me a liberal, you know, whatever. I mean, within, within one generation, I’ll be called something else. I don’t really care what I really– I know what I am. And if you’re going to take me and kick me out of the denomination because I have protect, I have called for the protection of the image of God,. Whatever, whatever, because my first allegiance is not to you or denomination. My first allegiance is to Jesus, to king Jesus, to brown Jesus, and to the image of God on Earth. And if the denomination proves, through its actions, shows us through its actions, that it is not, it does not understand its primary call to be protectors of the image of God on Earth, and of the flourishing of the image of God on Earth, then that denomination, through its actions, has shown you who it is and you need to believe it, the first time and act accordingly. Dust and feet.
Kate: So much there. Thank you. And I just want to say amen. Amen. That the sense I mean, I’m hearing the practice of solitude, as you said earlier, and how strongly that roots your identity into an identity that is divine and divinely given, which is so divorced and even touching, nowhere near the identities that people and the labels people can throw on you. And I think an image of like knife-throwing identity labels at you.
Lisa: Let you let your identity be shaped by what you do, not by what others say of you.
Lisa:Do your identity.
Kate: I just want to keep talking to you all day, but sadly, we do have to come to a close at some point. So I will end us the way that we’ve been ending, which is, with deep gratitude and as an expression of that, we want to give a donation to an organization that you see as doing good work in the world. And want to encourage our listeners to get involved in whatever way that might look like for them. What is an organization that you are enjoying lately?
Lisa: You know, I would really encourage folks to give to the Red Letter Christians because I understand Red Letter. I mean, I am on the board. So that’s, you know, you know, yeah, disclosure. I actually see two organizations, let me put two out there that I think are really worthy of our attention. And they are, they are not as well funded as they should be, given the the the weight that they’re, they’re fighting in the world. They really are punching above their weight. And what could they do then with more resources. Red Letter Christians is one of the premiere one of the, the on the front line organizations that is moving post-evangelicals, evangelicals, mainline, I mean really kind of anybody who wants to follow into, into following the red letters of Scripture. In other words, they’re focused on Jesus, but they’re focused on that decolonizing Jesus. And they have, they are doing their work. They have been doing their work for a very long time. And I also want to want to raise your awareness of the Justice Revival. So the Justice Revival is a newer organization that is a front line. It is on the front line. Again, disclosure, I’m on their board, but they are a front line organization holding the line on the ERA, the Equal Rights Amendment, because of their faith. They are Christians, they are devout Christians who they believe, because they understand all humanity is made in the image of God and called to exercise dominion on the world, in the world agency. And they also understand the law. They understand human rights, and they understand American constitutional law that women’s rights are literally not guaranteed, according to the Constitution. We need an amendment. And all of the requirements for passage have been met. All of them. It has been ratified by the states it needs to be ratified by. It’s been, it’s been passed in Congress by all the people. And all it needs now is to be recognized by the archivist for the National Archives, as having fulfilled all the requirements. But because of an arcane rule–not even arcane and more like a random rule that was placed on a limitation on the time limit of when you can fulfill these requirements–the archivist is refusing to fulfill it. But the last state that ratified the ERA was, I believe, Virginia, or at least they were among the last states. And that was just a few years ago, literally just a few years ago. So we have fulfilled, we have fulfilled the requirements. Women should have equal rights according to the Constitution of the United States, but we do not right now, because the ERA has been held up. And so, the Justice Revival is leading that charge for passage of the ERA. So I would say if you believe in the rights of women, to have our ability to flourish protected to the same measure as all men, then you need to be supporting the Justice Revival.
Kate: Thank you. Red Letter Christians and Justice Revival. Go check out their websites, find ways to get involved. We’ill send a donation and any listeners who might be looking for places to donate some funds and help support organizations that sounds like are doing their faith and making it very visible in public in the world.
Lisa: Can I –can I add – can I add one little caveat, one thought– is that these two organizations are both led by people of European descent who have engaged in, are engaging in the decolonization process on their own, otherwise I wouldn’t have recommended them. That said, in addition to these two organizations, I would challenge each of your listeners, each of your community, to choose one other organization that is people of color-led and give to that organization in equal measure exactly the amount that you gave to either Justice Revival or Red Letter Christians as an act of micro-reparations, an act of repairing what what race has broken in our economics in the world. And this is not charity. This is actually recognizing who’s doing the great work. So, you know, so there’s Be the Bridge, there’s Christians for Social Action, actually led by Nikki Toyama-Szeto. And there’s The Matthew 25 Initiative that comes out of out of California. So there’s, there’s The Voices Project that Leroy Barber and so many others. So there’s lots of places to give, but I would say give to Red Letters and Justice Revival and then give equal measure to an organization that is led by a person of color.
Kate: Beautiful. We will put links to some of those in the show notes, maybe all of them. We’ll see how many of you can track down. Listeners, you have your assignments, go make your donations, find other ways to get involved. And while you’re clicking on the Internet, go find a copy of Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World by Lisa Sharon Harper. Lisa, thank you so much for being with us today. I feel so full and so energized to take on all the world and all the systems. So grateful for your energy with us.
Lisa: Thank you, Kate. It’s been an honor.
Rose: Thank you, Lisa.
Lisa: Thank you so much, Rose.