Split Second Decisions

Last week I posted a vaguebook request on my author Facebook page:

My Dear Readers,
I’d love your prayers. I am speaking two more times at chapel… I had something that happened at the first chapel that has shaken me up a bit….

There wasn’t enough time to elaborate but as a Christian brought up to believe prayer and the covering of prayer by your community is important I asked for prayer. I couldn’t type more. I couldn’t think about it too much because I wanted to cry, vomit, and scream.

Last week I was speaking on a Christian campus at the morning chapel services. I was preaching/speaking/talking using Mark 5: 21-33 as my text. I love this passage about Jairus and his 12-year-old daughter and the bleeding woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.  I have part of the passage tattooed on my right forearm as a reminder of what Jesus does for this woman.

I used the words menstruation and menstrual blood because that why the woman was bleeding. As a woman who was taught to be ashamed of her body and the things it did in order to one day bring forth life just like Mary did for Jesus, I believe it’s important to be beautifully explicit. I joked that it was probably the first time a chapel speaker talked about periods. I didn’t get much of a laugh. Whatever, I thought I was funny.

But the call to prayer was because as I was wrapping up I talked about a few things that are broken in this country, things that break my heart and make me desperate for Jesus. I mentioned the mass shooting that had just occurred in Aurora, IL and the arrest of an 11-year-old boy in FL who had refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance.

That’s a lie!

That’s when things got tense.

I believe my wording was along the lines of: “An 11-year-old was arrested for refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance. I don’t know what you thought about Colin Kaepernick, but an 11-year-old being arrested breaks my heart.”

And then a male voice from the audience yelled back: “That’s a lie. He made terrorist threats!”

I have never felt so unsafe as I did in that moment.

In a split second I had to:

  • decide if I would respond to the man. I did not. I paused, caught myself and went on.
  • decide if I felt safe enough to stay on stage or trust the school would remove me from stage if someone else felt like I was in danger. I stayed but learned someone had moved quickly to get to me just in case.

Two more times

And then I went back up and did that same talk two more times. But I did it differently because after the first time I was asked about the Florida boy’s arrest. I was asked how I was feeling and if I was ok, but the conversation quickly shifted to the news story and one response was to point out that technically the boy was not arrested for refusing to stand for the pledge. No, technically no one can be arrested for that because it isn’t illegal to sit during the pledge. But the point was indirectly made clear that the particular example was now in question.

I just wrote a book about raising your voice and speaking up about the things we are most passionate about, and I am writing this as an example of when I chose to back off. I decided that for the next two talks I would not use the example of the 11-year-old being arrested, in part because his refusal to stand for the pledge angered the substitute teacher. I decided that I could not count on the school supporting me, a paid outside speaker, if and when concerned students, parents of students, and alumni emailed the school.

I decided that even though the man yelling at me was lying (the boy in Florida did not make terrorist threats) I didn’t want or need to put myself in that situation.

But it got me thinking

I’m not sure what I said the next two times I got up to preach/speak/talk. I did not feel great or even good about what I said and how I said it. I was unnerved, shaken, and scared. I did not know where the voice was coming from or if that young man was going to approach the stage. It didn’t matter which school it was, which state I was in, what the laws are. I didn’t know.

As a woman of color who talks publicly about things that are considered political (Jesus should get under everyone’s law and order skin because he didn’t care the woman broke the law by being in public while she was bleeding and unclean), I am not new to controversy. For all of the public speaking events I have done I have never once asked about crisis protocol, but this experience got me thinking about what I need to be asking event planners in the future.

It also got me thinking about imposter syndrome because in that moment of fear was also the fear that I had failed and couldn’t do the whole speaking in public thing even though that was exactly what I was doing. I told a friend of mine later that I felt like a failure, that as a WOC I can’t just be good enough or average. I have to be better than my best because so few of us get invited to preach/speak/talk that I feel like if I mess up event planners will be less likely to invite me again AND less likely to take a chance inviting another WOC they do not know or are less familiar with than, say, a white man or woman who has more platform than I. Does that sound absurd? This is what imposter syndrome operating in white supremacy sounds like. It tells me and other WOC that we have to actually be better than the average white woman or man to have a chance because we don’t get the same chances to build platform and audience.

It also made me angry. I have been asking for the past 10 years for an additional plane ticket to public speaking events so that I do not have to travel alone. I would’ve loved having a friend or my husband with me to pray with and cry with after this was all over. There were good people on campus with whom I could talk with, but no one I could just be completely honest and vulnerable with. I held it together like a professional Christian and waited until my husband greeted me at the curb and then I cried.

For all the conservative values around women and ministry and marriage, etc. you’d think I would’ve gotten at least one additional plane ticket in 10 years but maybe it’s because I’m a woman or a WOC with a smaller platform and less pull? Whatever. I’m still mad.

Welcome to the Christian Industrial Complex.

What’s next

The man was removed from the auditorium. I was told that it was swift, and I didn’t hear or see a commotion. I’m grateful. Rumor has it he was told that he should know better than to use the words “terrorist threats” these days in an auditorium, but the young man most likely would never be considered a terrorist, maybe a lone wolf at worst.

I’m grateful I’m safe and that he was removed without incident. I’m grateful he didn’t have a gun. I’m angry that I have to worry about this. I’m angry that I felt like my choice of words were in question and would not be supported. I’m angry that people may think this happened because of the specific campus or state. Nope. It’s all broken, it’s heart breaking, and it makes me desperate for Jesus.

This all came on the heels of my leaving InterVarsity Christian Fellowship after 21 years of ministry. This chapel talk that shook me to the core was on the Monday after my last day with an organization that helped shape my leadership and confidence. The devil is a liar but a sneaky one at that.

I’m not sure what’s next. I do know there aren’t any chapel talks or public events until May. There is time to cry some more, rest some more, pray some more.

My Dear Readers, thank you for praying, for the messages, for the texts. Thank you to the students who reached out via IG. No, that man doesn’t represent the whole of your community but he does represent a part of your community. His community patted him on the back and will use it as an example. What will you do with that knowledge? How will you love and correct siblings like that? And for that matter, that man isn’t just on a college campus. He’s in our churches and communities. My Dear Readers, how will be love and correct them when some of us are put in risky situations? How will thoughts and prayers cover us?

How To Build Your Platform. A Gentle Warning.

Isn't this what comes to mind when you hear people talking about platforms? No? What's wrong with you?

Isn’t this what comes to mind when you hear people talking about platforms? No? What’s wrong with you? These are my favorite, but I do wish I had bought both patterns of the same shoe because these are so comfy.

 

Now that I have your attention…

I’m not exactly sure on how to build a platform, and by platform I do not mean shoes or a stage. I know shoes, but I am not a carpenter. I am talking about social media platforms, and there actually are experts out there. It’s a thing. Just google it. The experts talk about platform, branding (which I associate with advertising and cattle, but that is another topic for another day), messaging, consistency, etc. I occasionally read about building a platform because I have promised a certain editor or two book proposals multiple times, and book proposals in today’s market require some knowledge or understanding of platform. The experts KNOW. I’m not sure but I have some thoughts and warnings.

  1. Just because you have traffic doesn’t mean you’re a good writer. Deep down we all get a rush knowing the traffic on your blog ticked up or a tweet was retweeted, etc. Admit it. If you can’t admit it, you’re not being honest. And if you’re not being honest, then you will never be able to handle reality which is traffic does not equal your best content. My highest traffic posts involved some megachurch pastor who never communicated with me personally. Those posts were not my best content. Those posts were not examples of my best writing. IF you are just looking to increase traffic write about sex, Game of Thrones, megachurch pastors, or sex.
  2. Just because you don’t have traffic doesn’t mean you’re bad writer. Some of my best posts are the ones that sit there and are read quietly by my dear readers, who don’t number in the thousands but more in the hundreds. In fact, yesterday there were only 42 readers on this blog. I have less than 300 people following my blog.
  3. When you write from your heart, pray while you write, edit, and before you hit “publish”. And keep praying. Much of what I write about hits at the intersection of gender, faith, race, and ethnicity. It’s not everyone’s “thing” but it is the thing that God has compelled me to write and speak about. That intersection is what catches my heart and keeps me up at night because it affects the way I heard and hear God. It also makes people upset, angry, defensive. Racism and sexism are touchy subjects amongst the church-going crowd. If you are writing to build a platform, I humbly suggest you reconsider your motives. Writing for an audience is soul-bearing work. It’s work. It’s a discipline. Just like praying.
  4. Engage with your readers not your critics. My dear readers are thoughtful. They respond with open hearts and honest questions. Writers should engage with their readers. However, when my stats go through the roof because I’ve written a controversial post or about something that became a controversy I get crazy comments and crazier personal messages that demand I repent, retract, kowtow, etc. Am I judging those commenters? Yes. Those commenters usually are not regular readers and their comment is a critique. I let my readers respond to them. That’s right. Let your readers engage with your critics. If your readers are like mine they are thoughtful and sharp, and they will call out a troll when they see one.
  5. If you are serious about building your platform you have to be committed to writing consistently. This is where I offer advice I have heard but have not taken. I am not building my platform. I write when I want to write because this isn’t my livelihood nor is “writer” my primary vocation. However, I have been putting much more thought into being a better, more consistent blogger for my own development as a writer and for my readers who deserve more than a post here and there every few weeks.

For my fellow writer/speaker friends and readers out there, what have you learned about building your platform? What words of advice, warning, and encouragement can you give?