made me think

#notmyOGHS — The @PCUSA_SO ‘s spectacular ad failure #presbyterian

Well, the PCUSA has done it again in terms of missing the mark (big time) and branding/marketing only this time, instead of a relatively cute dog in a pink sweater, it’s a campaign that makes plays on stereotypes of race and gender and portrays the recipients of mission not as vital members of the body of Christ with whom we can partner, but poor recipients in need of various types of handouts. Let’s take a closer look. For this post I want to focus on the two images which are the most disturbing to me. Incidentally, these are two of the images that are not highlighted in the PCUSA’s news article that has been receiving a lot of traffic in the last few days. I can speak to the first image directly and out of personal experience because it features a woman. Take a look:

put in her place

A beautiful young and confident looking woman with the bold headline that says “Needs to be put in her place” with smaller type that says “Math 101 to be precise” and then even smaller type talking about how a gift to the Christmas Joy offering can provide schooling to girls who need it. It’s clever and provocative advertising, to be sure. It’s edgy. I like the typography. It looks professional. One problem: It hurts.  I’m not as beautiful as that woman, but I’d like to think I have the same level of confidence. And guess what? People have said that I need to be put in my place. The intent of this ad is to say “Oh look, some people say women need to be put in their place, we’re saying that women need help and support to get an education. See? We turned it upside down!” Yes, yes, they did. I get it. Get it as I may, I look at that image and I see myself in that photo and I think of all of the times men have said subtly (or boldly) “That’s ok, sweetheart, we got this one.”  The ad is intentionally offensive. The second ad I’m going to talk about is much harder to write about because it hurts even more. It’s truly an embarrassment to the denomination I love:

angerissues

A young African American boy juxtaposed against the words “Needs help with recurring anger issues.” Then in smaller print “his country’s” then in smaller print words about how the world is unjust and full of famine. This ad reminds me of two friends I’ve spoken with about how it is to parent an African American boy. In both cases, the mothers choke up as they talk about the sense of powerlessness they feel as their sons experience the type of racism that this ad is based around. The ad’s intent, again, is to say “we’re not saying African American boys are angry! We’re saying the world is an unjust place!” Yet no matter how you dress it up, the fact remains that, in the context of everything we have been through as a nation, the PCUSA approved an ad campaign where a young African American boy is juxtaposed against the words “recurring anger issues.” I can’t imagine the hurt this ad causes African American sisters and brothers. I would encourage you to comment on the posts, though, so that those responsible can begin to reflect on the hurt these ads have caused. My boys are Colombian Americans. It’s a stereotype that Colombians are drug dealers. How would I have felt if there were an ad with a little Colombian boy and really large type floating around that said “Looking for Some Coke” and then in smaller type it says “Coca-Cola, that is. Buy these boys a soda!” I would be heartbroken. I wouldn’t think it was edgy or appropriate or funny or a way to raise funds. I think I would put my face in my hands and have a good cry. This ad is inflicting a similar pain on my mama friends who have black boys. I hurt for them. I am ashamed this ad has anything to do with my denomination. How could they not know that this would be a problem?   I was not around for the process of approving these ads and discussing them. Through the beauty of the internets, however, it appears that the powers that be did know about the concerns and chose to ignore them. What were they thinking? Seriously. What. Were. They. Thinking.? It’s ok to hurt people as long as a lot of money is raised? It’s provocative and that’s a good thing? It appears that the intent of these ads is to make them unforgettable and memorable. They are that, for sure, but at what cost? At the cost of actually hurting people. Not only are the ads plays on race and gender stereotypes, they seem to go against the model of partnership and mutuality that the PC(USA) tries to excel at. Our missionaries are called “mission co-workers” our Hunger, Peacemaking and Disaster programs seek to work at a level that is not “you vs. me” but rather “us.” We have an entire grantmaking organization called “Self Development of People (SDOP)” that seeks to empower grassroots organizations. Each of the ads proposed by this campaign sets up the giver as someone who can help the “other.” At no time is it ever suggested that the girl who needs to be “put in her place” is a partner in all of this. (And we didn’t really mean she needs to be put in her place, it’s just a ‘made ya look’ type of thing) This ad campaign needs to be removed and an apology issued.  We wanted to do the right thing and raise a lot of money for causes we all believe in and we went too far. We should have listened to minority voices and we didn’t. We will do better.   Two important things before I let y’all have the floor in the comments 1. “Special Offerings raise money for good things.” This has come up again and again on numerous threads and discussions about this campaign. I agree wholeheartedly. Special offerings raise money for Presbyterian DIsaster Assistance, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Self Development of People, Young Adult Volunteers, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and (hello!) Racial Ethnic Leadership Development. I (or my husband) have benefited directly from each and every one of the programs I just named. We owe a debt of gratitude to the PCUSA for providing these programs and for the good work they do. All the more reason to not jeopardize the future of such amazing programs by rolling out such a divisive and painful campaign. There will be a cost to redoing the materials for this year. There will be an even greater cost for not redoing them. 2. “PCUSA needs relevant and good marketing that appeals to young people.” Yes and no. I agree that it can be helpful to have a well designed and beautiful campaign to inspire people to give money to a cause. I was impressed by the gifts catalog that was put out for Christmas this year. It made me want to show it to people and encourage them to give. That said, slick marketing campaigns only go so far. In my experience money starts flying out of wallets when people hear the stories of what God is doing and how lives are being changed. I will encourage my congregation to give to special offerings, as I always do. I’ll be looking closely at the denomination in the coming week to see what materials they propose I use to do that.

Advertisements

An Immigration Policy We Can All Agree On: #EndChildDetention #EndFamilyDetention

kidsshouldbefree

I’ve been visiting a mother, Alicia* in family detention in Karnes City for a few months now. Family detention is the almost unbelievable practice of locking up young mothers and their children in prison. No matter what we think about the right of immigrants to cross the border without proper authorization, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where anyone believes that children deserve to be locked up. The United Nations agrees. The committee on the rights of the child says:

Children should not be criminalized or subject to punitive measures because of their or their parents’ migration status. The detention of a child because of their or their parent’s migration status constitutes a child rights violation and always contravenes the principle of the best interests of the child.

For several months I’ve been actively volunteering and working with Mission Presbytery’s efforts to help refugees from Central America who find themselves in the bounds of our Presbytery. There are a lot of overlapping, complicated issues. Though we see these issues through the eyes of faith (“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” – Exodus 22:21) our work necessarily takes us to places where broader policy is involved.
Not everyone agrees on what the policy should be. Should there be quotas? Should more people be given asylum? How should new arrivals be handled? Should people be deported right away? How many people should be allowed to come and under what circumstances? What about people who have been here for a long time? And what about family members? Should adult children of US citizens be automatically given visitor’s visas to come visit? (This affects my own family and Elias’s adult children who have not been allowed to visit in the 6 years Elias and I have been married, though they have applied). It would take a lot of blogging to address all of these policies and to propose solutions, and these are all very complicated questions and solutions.

Instead, though, I want to focus on this mother and her children, because I think it’s something most of us can agree on:

Children do not belong in detention. Family detention must be ended.

I’ve heard people who work inside the family detention center in Karnes talk about how nice it is. “The children have school and they are fed three meals a day and they are permitted to play outside.”

These things are true, and even so, family detention is outrageous. When we talk about facts and statistics, sometimes our eyes glaze over. (Although, if you’re interested in facts, I suggest reading THIS or THIS.)

Instead of summarizing the facts you can easily read yourself, I want to tell a story, and it’s a story about the mom I’ve been visiting in detention. More specifically, it’s a story about her 8 year old son, Camilo.*

Alicia says that Camilo is having a lot of difficulty in detention. After making a harrowing journey all the way from central america, fleeing imminent gun violence and threats of death, they spent some challenging days at the US/Mexico border. Once they made their way to Karnes Detention facility, she noticed the problems: acting out at school, hitting his head against the wall, outbursts. She says he cries a lot. One of the problems, according to Alicia, is that he can’t make friends in detention. Friends mysteriously arrive and leave. He doesn’t understand why. He also doesn’t understand why they can’t go anywhere. Ever. They can’t go to the store or to church or to the soccer field. They can’t go to get a haircut.

It’s this last one I want to talk about for a second: a haircut. Last time I went to visit Alicia, I asked about Camilo. “He’s sad today. He was supposed to get his haircut, but then he didn’t. He’s been crying about it.”

It didn’t seem like she wanted to talk more about it, and so we didn’t. But I can’t stop thinking about that haircut. As I pack my two boys up in the car to take them here and there and everywhere, I can’t stop thinking about the hundreds of children in Karnes Detention facility who are locked up, in cells, because their parents dared to try and give them a better life. Family detention is outrageously costly to the US government. There are cheaper and more humane options.

#EndFamilyDetention #EndChildDetention

Three ways to begin to make a difference about child detention in the US:

1. Look for information and learn about it. Family Detention seems to get lost sometimes in the middle of a much larger immigration debate. Another reason it gets lost is that the family detention facilities are far out of the way of any major city or area. Out of sight, but not out of mind.

2. Don’t worry too much about being “too political.” It’s a dangerous narrative out there when showing compassion and basic common sense is somehow a political agenda. There is room for all kinds of politics in the immigration debate. There is not room to ever justify locking up children and denying them freedom to live in a house with friends or family while their cases are processed. Whichever political party you support, your leaders can get on board with some kind of meaningful reform. Children deserve to be free. (And, yes, some can come live with me. Mission Presbytery has families lining up to receive families in our own homes if people are given the opportunity).

3. Connect:

Mission Presbytery Refugee Family Response

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

See also: Babies in Jails

 

*Names changed for privacy

Do Little Girls and Little Boys Need Different Bibles?

One of the things that I’m keenly aware of as a recently published author on spiritual practices for families is how I’m now part of the world of Christian marketing. As I’ve written about before, I believe only people can be described as Christian. I don’t believe there is such a thing as “Christian music” or “Christian books” or “Christian art.” There’s only music, books and art by and for Christian people. As much as marketers try and label everything from breath mints to financial services as “Christian,” what they’re trying to do is get Christian people to buy their products which may or may not be any better or different than products by so called “secular” retailers.

My desire to write and publish Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life was born out of a desire that I think most Christian parents share: to connect with our children, pass on our values and provide meaningful ways to practice our faith together. Since its release, I’ve been interested in other books and products that I might be able to recommend to readers of Seamless Faith. I perked up whenever I find a new book, CD or game aimed at helping families practice their faith together. Enter the Little Girls Bible Storybook for Mothers and Daughters and the Little Boys Bible Storybook for Mothers and Sons:

littleboysandgirls

Suffice it to say, I have a few concerns about these products, but I’ll focus on the two most troubling:

First, in a world where every single product marketed to children is gender specific, it makes me cringe to see a Bible storybook following this trend. In the introduction to the Little Boys Bible Storybook, the author even explains that raising boys and girls are different and that the little boys storybook is more “rough and tumble” than the little girls Bible. I think this is extremely problematic thinking. While my boys may or may not be more active than their girl classmates and friends, the faith that I want to share with them is a faith where gentleness and kindness are of utmost importance. Similarly, I want the girls I minister to (I don’t have daughters) to know that they are free to be strong like Queen Esther and trailblazers like the Daughters of Zelophehad. Incidentally, the story about Queen Esther in the Little Girls Storybook Bible is “Esther Wins a Beauty Contest.” This fact made me simultaneously laugh out loud and and want to cry. What is the message we want to send our little girls?

The second problem I have with the Little Girls and Little Boys Storybook Bible is that both products are marketed to mothers only. Though I’m certain the authors would agree that fathers, grandparents, stepparents and other family members have an important role in sharing faith, the fact that the title of the work is “for mothers and sons” and “for mothers and daughters” implies that it’s the mother’s job to pass on these stories. I much prefer a model whereby the whole family is involved in sharing faith together, and I know many families do too.

For those looking for a great storybook bible for boys and girls, moms and dads (and everyone in between) I recommend

The Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu.

tutu

What do you think? Does the Little Girls Storybook Bible for Mothers and Daughters and the Little Boys Storybook Bible for Mothers and Sons serve a purpose, or are there some real problems here that need to be addressed? 

 

 

 

Traci Smith is author of Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life which was published earlier this year by Chalice Press. You can sign up for her monthly email newsletter with practical faith tips for families here

The noisy news…

Sometimes the news just seems… loud to me. Death. Violence. Wars. Screaming. Shouting. Bills. Laws. Minority opinions. Majority opinions.

It seems to me that the only thing that can break through, sometimes, is art.

Today it was quiet enough for me to really see and hear this short poem by Khaled Juma…

 

rascal children of gaza

The Things We Don’t Talk About at Church…

shame

Here’s something I’ve noticed, and maybe you have too… there are some things that we don’t talk about at church. When I say church I don’t mean Northwood Presbyterian Church in San Antonio or First Baptist Church of Anytown or Hope Bible Church in Largecity… I mean church in general. Any church. Some things are freely talked about and others are talked about in hushed tones, if at all. 

I’ll give an example… cancer. Cancer seems to be firmly planted in the “acceptable” camp. When our family members get cancer (and so many do) it seems like something we can talk about. We can say to someone “my nephew has cancer” and everyone will hear it, repeat it, and agree to pray about it. I say, from the pulpit (after getting permission) “Let’s pray for Mr. Jones, Mrs. Garcia’s nephew. Mr. Jones has cancer.” 

But what about… say… depression. Depression seems to be planted firmly in the “we don’t talk about it” camp. When our family members become depressed (and so many do) it seems like something we can’t talk about. Rarely will someone say “my spouse is depressed,” or “I’m depressed.” Have you ever heard a pastor say, from the pulpit (after getting permission) “Let’s pray for Mr. Jones, Mrs. Garcia’s nephew. Mr. Jones is depressed.”? 

Why is that? We know the answer: it’s because mental illness is hidden from plain view not just in the church, but in society at large. Cancer = acceptable. Mental illness = unacceptable. In the example above about depression, one could easily substitute any one of a number of mental illnesses or taboo things that people struggle with: eating disorders, addictions, phobias, relationship problems, financial problems, family problems, fertility problems, and so many more. 

There’s no easy answer or solution to making sure that the things we don’t talk about in church are talked about, but we know this to be true: the things we don’t talk about in church are precisely the things we should talk about at church. They are the things that weigh us down and occupy our minds and hearts. They are the things that make us cry out to God. If God cares about these things (and we believe that God does care about them) should not the church care about them too? Let us continue to work toward a world where every struggle is acceptable to name, out loud.  

Some musings about getting lost, finding my way and wayfinding design…

wayfinding

I have a terrible sense of direction. What I mean is: it’s impossible to overstate how easy it is for me to get lost. I mean this in a literal sense. Without a GPS or very, very clear directions, I can lose my way to even the simplest of places, even if I’ve been there before. My mother is the same way and I either inherited it or learned it from her, I’m convinced.

One of the places I get most lost is in hospitals and my job requires me to go to a lot of different hospitals. I used to try and plan to park near the entrance that would get me closest to the parishioner I was visiting. Now, I don’t bother. I know I’m going to be spending time endlessly wandering around the halls, asking for someone to point me to the right room and then asking someone again 50 feet later. If I have to come back for a follow up visit, I have to ask again, because I don’t easily remember which way I went.

A friend once explained to me that wayfinding design is an actual thing. In other words, the system finding your way in a place like a hospital, or a stadium, or an airport or some other complex place isn’t just thrown together, someone thought about it and used clearly researched principles to help you find your way. If they did their job well, you don’t get lost.

I don’t know a lot about these principles for wayfinding design, though I am intrigued when I read about them   but I do know this: many hospitals contract wayfinding designers that aren’t very good. I know this not because I know a whole lot about design, but because I get lost there and so I know the system is bad. One could argue that I’m the exception to the rule and that because most people find their way, it’s a good system. I’m just a “lose your way” kind of girl and there’s no hope. Except that shouldn’t be true. Designers should care most about people like me because people that are good with directions can find their way without their system, just give ’em some kind of map. (The word makes me shudder. I can’t read them. Really.)  If a system is really good, it should be good for someone with a terrible sense of direction.

Thus brings me to the exciting point of this post. For the past few days I’ve been at Edward Hospital in Naperville with my mama who has had knee replacement surgery. And I haven’t gotten lost one time. Not on my way to the waiting room when we were waiting for the surgery, not to the hospital, not to the multiple parking garages when I’ve had to go there to get the cars, not when I’ve gone to the cafeteria, you get the picture. In an ordinary hospital experience, I would have gotten lost many times by now, and here, not once. I know this may be exceptionally boring and not noteworthy to many people, but to me it’s huge. I am 100% serious when I say that I want to find out which design company did the wayfinding for Edward Hospital and thank them. I think designers should hire me as a test case for their systems. If I can find my way, the system passes. This one would pass. Here are the things that I think work for this system. (Pictures above.)

1. There are ceiling flags that don’t show you just one time if you’re going the right way, they repeatedly show you. If I start to go down the hall that is not the right one, I turn around half way down the hall instead of having to get to the end (or worse, make a constant wrong turn). In other words, I’m constantly being reminded (this way, go this way, this is the way, yes, this is the way.)  As a side note, I found my way through one hospital by learning that the wing I wanted was near Starbucks and so I should just follow the one sign to Starbucks that was posted constantly to remind me. Same concept.

2. There are different colors and shapes on the flags for various places, so they look very different in more than one way. Surgery was an orange X. The North Wing is a blue N, the South Wing is a hot pink S. In other hospitals they’re all numbers in circles that look very similar and I get confused. (Was I going to 1S or 1N? Things like south and north literally mean nothing to me, and most of the time there is no other color or identifier to help me know which is which.)

3. There are GIANT symbols on end walls so I don’t have to walk all the way to the end to know if I’m at the right hallway or the wrong hallway.

Can anyone help me find the wayfinding designer for Edward Hospital? Anybody have influence in hospital wayfinding design and want me to test out your system? I’m dead serious.

 

 

Masters of Renunciation

bigstockphoto

bigstockphoto

This week my friend, colleague, and mentor Rev. Kelly Allen  pointed me to a New York Times opinion piece about leadership. The piece is worth reading in its entirety (link at the end) but I found this portion to be particularly compelling:

“close off your options. People in public life live in a beckoning world. They have an array of opportunities. They naturally want to keep all their options open. The shrewd strategists tell them to make a series of tepid commitments to see what pans out. Hedge your bets. Play it smart.

But the shrewd strategy leads to impotence. You spread yourself thin. You dissipate your energies and never put full force behind any cause. You make your own trivial career the object of your attention, not the vision that inspired you in the first place.

The public official who does this leaves no mark. Only the masters of renunciation leave an imprint, only those who can say a hundred Nos for the sake of an overwhelming Yes. Only the person who has burned the ships and committed to one issue has the courage to cast aside the advice of the strategists and actually push through change.”

What does it mean, as a leader, to be a “master of renunciation” and to close off all of the many options and opportunities that might come your way in order to be supremely focused on one inspiring idea? I think that Mr. Brooks is on to something here. The idea of “playing it safe” and “hedging my bets” really resonated with me. What do you think makes a good leader? 

For Further Reading: The Leadership Revival