What’s Missing?

The other day, I found myself in Berkeley with a spare hour to kill, so I did what any 20-year veteran campus minister would do and walked the campus at Cal.

What a beautiful place. Stately architecture, a wonderfully diverse student body, and pleasantly surprising pockets of nature throughout.

Unfortunately, I also caught a subtle glimpse of Tertullian. Here:


Do you see what I saw?!?

Evidently, Cal has two faculty clubs. Well, and an eye center, but I digress…

There’s a “Faculty Club,” and then there’s a “Women’s Faculty Club.” The nomenclature is significant in good part because of what’s missing:


You see what’s happening here? Cal is lacking a “Men’s Faculty Club.” Instead, it has a “Faculty Club” alongside its “Women’s Faculty Club.” Evidently, there’s no need to explicitly designate the Faculty Club as “Men’s.” Why?

Because in our world masculinity remains the default setting. 

Friends, this is male privilege. To not have to clarify that the Faculty Club is (or was) for men only is the epitome of bias.

I did a bit of research this morning, and let me fill out the picture a bit. According to this history, Cal’s Women’s Faculty Club was formed in 1919. Why? You guessed it. Because women weren’t permitted in the other, male only Faculty Club. Instead, the Women’s Faculty Club offered Cal’s female faculty “a place of their own.”

As for the Faculty Club, well, the building looks pretty amazing, and the website does note that “women have enjoyed full membership benefits for decades.” How many decades? The site doesn’t say. We don’t know.

But we do know this:

It’s time to be done with the masculine default.

You Asked For It…

Last week, I got the opportunity to train a church staff team on the topic of flourishing partnerships between women and men. It was a big moment for me, so I decided I’d bring along my secret weapon:



That’s right, this little 8 year old charmer was the best wing-girl a dad could ask for. And as we were heading to the church that morning, we talked about what she would do to pass the time during the three hour training. At one point, I said, “heck, maybe you should take notes on what Daddy does well and what could use some work.”

Be careful what you wish for!

I meant it as a throwaway comment, but she took me up on it. First, here’s her “Good Notes on Daddy:”

Good Notes.jpg

For those of you who can’t read Lily, here are the 7 things I did well:

  1. Talking, which she labeled “very wise.” I’ll take it.
  2. Family photo, on the flash drive.
  3. Lesson men and women in partnership. This was her way of saying that she approved of my main point. Phew.
  4. Photo slide show. Basically, she liked seeing herself on the big screen.
  5. They know what he’s talking about. Good to know I was being clear!
  6. You’re happy and funny; you’re not strict. That’s right, I’m the fun teacher!
  7. You give them breaks. And, to be clear, on each of those breaks Lily got into the candy…

And, now, the bad news:


Here you go, the “Bad Notes on Daddy:”

  1. How you show emotions. She thinks I could show more emotion when I teach and train. #fairpoint
  2. Call on people if they have a question. Evidently, I missed a hand at one point…
  3. Show a picture of me and Hannah. Huge mistake. I had showed a slide with three pictures of “Daddy Adventures” I had gone on with my three older kids. Missing? The picture from the day before where Lily had hung out with her 2 year old friend Hannah. My bad Lily!
  4. Let people say their opinion. Whoops. OK, maybe I’m NOT the fun teacher…
  5. Don’t push them for questions.
  6. Tell them about your experience. Stories. More stories!
  7. Tell them how you feel about a question.

All in all, I think this is some pretty good feedback. In particular, it interests me that she picked up on a lack of emotion in my presentation. Duly noted!

Thanks, Lily. You are a wonderful partner!

A “Falling Off the Horse” Kind of Day

mtrg10qThis morning, my wife Amy labeled yesterday a “falling off the horse” kind of day.

She’s right. And I wish that comment was only about our daughter’s failed soccer tryout…

In this election cycle, the Dixon house was a pro-Clinton house. No candidate is perfect, but we were for Hillary for lots of reasons, including her qualifications, her temperament and the historic nature of her candidacy.

Ironically enough, for those very same reasons we were united against Trump.

And so as the election returns came in and state after state went red, dread started to fall on our little house. Our youngest daughter said, “I’m scared.” Of what? Of the “meanie” that was going to be living in the White House. Our middle daughter, she of the “Girls Rule” T-shirt collection, burst into tears, her dream of a woman achieving the highest office in our land shattered. And our oldest daughter decided she’d join me in what we hoped would be a tension-relieving lap around the neighborhood; the “Walk of Angst” we called it.

Toward the end of the evening, our son walked by on his way to bed. He’s a teenager and, as such, he squarely inhabits his own little world. So I was pleasantly surprised when he stopped to offer what he intended to be words of comfort:

“Don’t worry, Dad. Life will go on. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”

I started to mumble back something like “thanks, Son, good night,” when it occurred to me:

This is the time to talk about privilege.

So, more or less, here’s what I told him:

“Buddy, you’re right. For our family, I don’t think much will change with Donald Trump as our President. After all, we’re a white, evangelical, middle-class family. On top of that, you and I are men, and, as always, that will work in our favor as well.

But here’s the thing…it is our privilege to not have to worry so much about an America led by Donald Trump. Millions of Americans, including many of our friends, have a lot to worry about in Donald Trump’s America, from losing health care to deportation to just knowing that the President of our country has mean feelings in his heart about who they are as people.

So, yes, we’ll be fine, but it’s important to know and then do something about the reality that many more won’t be.”

Really, who knows how much a 14 year old can grasp about the toxic realities of privilege in our world? Seems like our son’s brain is full of high school, video games, and trying to consume as much milk as possible.

All I know is this: it is my sacred task to help our kids understand. And lament. And work for change. It is my duty as a Jesus-following father to call out and decry racism, sexism, xenophobia, and every other way that our world does violence to the image of God in people.

Sadly, it looks like the next four years will provide me with lots of opportunities to teach my kids about privilege.

God help us.

Learning from Tim Kaine

mtrg10qWhen was the last time you were led by a woman?

Over my 2o years as a campus minister, I’ve had two seasons where my direct supervisor was a woman, and many more where I served under the leadership of women in other capacities. It’s true to say that those positive experiences have helped to propel me into reflection on issues of gender and faith, including on this blog.

If the latest polls are correct and Hillary Clinton is elected president in just under two weeks, on January 20, 2017 we will all be led by a woman, for the first time in our country’s history.

And for lots of Americans, and for many male Americans in particular:

That will be a first. 

That’s certainly true for Clinton’s running mate, Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine. Here’s Kaine from the other day, from this article:

“Other than supervising attorneys on occasion, this will be the first time I’ve had a female boss,” Sen. Kaine told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview to be aired in full on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. — and he was a little taken aback by the realization.

“Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” he chuckled.

Again, I don’t think Kaine is alone in this. And I wonder how the nation will respond to a woman in the oval office. In particular, how will American men, long accustomed to the privileged position in this country, respond as “Hail to the Chief” serenades a woman?

Perhaps Kaine himself can give us a roadmap how men might engage a President Clinton. More from the article:

A civil rights lawyer and self-described feminist, Kaine said he “relishes” the idea of reinventing gender norms in the White House alongside Clinton, who could be the first women elected president of the United States.

“I get to be now, play a supportive role — that’s what the vice president’s main job is — to a woman who’s going to make history, to a president who will preside over the centennial of women getting the right to vote,” Kaine said.

He added that as much as Clinton could normalize the idea of a woman in the White House, his vice presidency would normalize the notion that “strong men should definitely support strong women.”

Of course, there’s bound to be some confusion, Kaine acknowledged. For instance, he said: “Is my wife Second Lady if there’s no First Lady?”

Nevertheless, Kaine said he was excited to create a new model.

“There’s no complete playbook for this, but that’s cool too,” he said. “There’s traditions that you honor, but it’s always something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. So you got to make your own traditions.”

Three comments on Kaine’s posture here.

First, it will be important to acknowledge the novelty of the situation. This will indeed be something new. For the first time, a woman will hold the highest office in our government. And, the truth is that new things can take some getting used to. So each of us should expect a bit of internal dissonance, particularly at the beginning.

Second, I appreciate Kaine’s posture towards the new thing. He is predisposed to be supportive. Now, he’s her VP choice, so of course he’s going to say that, but what about the rest of us? When George H.W. Bush left office, he wrote a note to his successor, Bill Clinton, and here’s how he closed the letter: “your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.” In the current political morass, this brand of civility feels like a pipe dream. But what if we find that within ourselves, committing to be supportive? What would it mean for Clinton? What would it mean for us?

Third, Kaine calls us to a paradigm shift. Here it is: “strong men should definitely support strong women.” Friends, that is a vision we can and should get behind. To go a step further, I’ll say that “strong men definitely supporting strong women” is a vision that the Bible affirms. You see, the message of Scripture is that women and men are called to jointly steward our world. Sometimes, that means men will lead, other times, women will lead, and, all in all, joyful support should mark the partnership.

If the trends continue as the campaign (mercifully) winds down, Hillary Clinton will make history on January 20th. Indeed, for the first time in our 227 year history, the country’s daughters will have someone placing their hand on a Bible who looks and talks like them. It will be a powerful occasion.

And the country’s sons? May we respond like Tim Kaine.

Partnership Steps

I recently had a post published on InterVarsity’s Collegiate Ministries blog, entitled “Partnering Together Across Gender Lines.” Check it out, and let me know what you think! Find the post here.


Throwing Tertullian a Bone

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 6.49.11 PMIt’s not an easy thing to choose a blog name.

At least it wasn’t easy for me. While I don’t remember my rejected names, I acutely remember the pressure I felt about getting it right. After all, if you are intending to produce a blog for the long haul, and you hope folks engage with it, you’ve got to have a solid title.

And so, after much consideration, some 4 years ago I landed on Challenging Tertullian. And, thankfully, I haven’t regretted it.

Tragically, in choosing the name I had lots of options. Because, historically speaking, it seems like part of the job description for a key leader in the church has been launching patriarchal and misogynistic quotes into the culture. If you need a reminder, go here and here…and then go take out your aggression somehow. In the end, I landed on Tertullian because I found his “devil’s gateway” quote to be the worst of the bunch.

So the name was simple, but the adjective was tough. On one hand, I wanted a word that communicated confrontation. I mean, I was planning to take the theology espoused by Tertullian and his ilk to task. So it had to be a tough word.

On the other hand, it couldn’t be too tough. No Lambasting Tertullian, or Taking Tertullian Out Behind the Shed, or anything like that. For two reasons.

One, because I think dialogue is important. Anyone can (and does!) throw bombs, particularly in the social media age. I happen to think that tone matters, and that conversation marked by seeking understanding should be the goal. So, “challenging” felt like a good compromise; if Tertullian and I went to coffee, I’d express my opinion, hear his reply and we’d go from there. We’d have, you know, a conversation.

The other reason I didn’t want my adjective to be too tough is that no person is ever just one thing. As much as I might enjoy pummeling Tertullian into theological submission, I must acknowledge that he’s not wrong about everything, every time. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll meet Tertullian someday in heaven. Too often, disagreement with someone in one area means we reject them completely. It’s another persistent problem in the all-too-toxic public square.

Case in point, this post, from Marg Mowczko. I’ve been reading Marg’s New Life blog for awhile now (you should too!), and in her latest post, she excerpts a quote from Tertullian about marriage. Here’s a portion of the quote:

How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts.

Awesome, right? Like, I could use that the next time I conduct a wedding!

If you read Marg’s post, you’ll get a bit of the backstory for this quote, and I’ll admit that I’m not totally sure how to reconcile Tertullian’s “devil’s gateway” stinker with this wonderful bit of prose. But I do know that, somehow, both sentiments came out of the same heart and mind.

So I guess I’ll do this: celebrate Tertullian’s vision for marriage…

…and continue to challenge the heck out of his posture toward women.

Olympics-Sized Privilege

Mr. Phelps is great and all, but it looks like Tertullian has been working on some newspaper headlines…

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