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What Warren Buffett and I have in Common

nEjntjAOver the last month or so, I’ve been meandering my way through Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. One quote, from early on in her book, caught my eye. It’s about Warren Buffett, the uber-wealthy “Oracle of Omaha.” Here’s Sandberg on Buffett:

“Legendary investor Warren Buffett has stated generously that one of the reasons for his great success was that he was competing with only half of the population.”

Now, Mr. Buffett and I don’t have a lot in common. He’s wealthy…we live simply. He’s got business acumen…I can pray, do some pastoring and I’m decent with email. He’s widely known and respected around the world…I’m widely known and respected…in my own home. You get the picture. We’re apples and oranges Warren and I.

But Warren Buffett and I on the same page when it comes to women in the workforce.

Intrigued by Sandberg’s quote, I recently came across this article that demonstrates that Warren Buffett is a man who is aware of his privilege. Check this out:

“The moment I emerged from my mother’s womb, however, my possibilities dwarfed those of my siblings, for I was a boy! And my brainy, personable, and good-looking siblings were not. My parents would love us equally, and our teachers would give us similar grades. But at every turn my sisters would be told — more through signals than words — that success for them would be “marrying well.” I was meanwhile hearing that the world’s opportunities were there for me to seize. So my floor became my sisters’ ceiling — and nobody thought much about ripping up that pattern until a few decades ago.”

Friends, that’s male privilege right there. And here’s Buffett’s call to action:

“Fellow males, get onboard. The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.”

In one sense, Warren Buffett and are making the same argument, just from different perspectives.

Where Buffett argues from the perspective of economic resources, I’ve been challenging Tertullian from the perspective of spiritual resources.

So, allow me to paraphrase Mr. Buffet:

“Fellow males, get onboard. The closer the Church comes to fully employing the talents of all its members, the greater its spiritual output will be. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about Kingdom’s future.”

See? Who cares if we’re in different tax brackets, Mr. Buffett and I have more in common than I thought.

Baby Steps

mFuDuv6Change is hard. That’s true when you’re talking about starting an exercise program, controlling your temper, working on a relationship, or, as I well know, wrangling your adorable children into picking up after themselves.

And it’s certainly true when it comes to rethinking a system. What I mean is that cultural systems are so vast, complex and embedded that they defy easy answers.

After all, how do you change something that just is?

So when it comes to overturning the unequal system of male privilege, the watch word must be baby steps. Baby steps are small yet significant. They are real and purposeful. At the risk of being a bit cliche, I’ll quote Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

For the guys in our seminar two weeks ago, baby steps include grieving the reality of an unjust patriarchal system, learning the stories of their female peers, displacing themselves and learning from women pastors and looking around them to understand the privilege they enjoy.

Baby steps. But vital ones.

This week two stories caught my eyes, two stories that may indicate that some baby steps are being taken. I say “may” because sometimes only time tells whether baby steps will lead to change.

First, the new pope made news for stressing the “fundamental” value of women in the church. In particular, he noted the presence of women as witnesses in the resurrection narrative. Here’s how one theologian interpreted the effect of his words in this article:

“The fact that the Pope acknowledges that the progressive removal of female figures from the tradition of the resurrection … is due to human judgments, distant from those of God…introduces a decidedly new element compared to the previous papacy.”

Staying in the world of religion, there were potential baby steps in the Mormon faith this past week, as Jean Stevens offered the closing prayer for the recent LDS general conference. According to this article, it was the first time that a woman has prayed in that important gathering.

Here’s hoping that these baby steps combine with others to produce wholesale change in these contexts.

And here’s also hoping that the baby steps we all take now will get us a thousand miles down the road one day.

That Sound You Hear is a Paradigm Shifting…

Teaching at WIBTwo weeks ago now, together with a friend and staff partner, I had the privilege of leading 14 college students through a week-long seminar entitled “Women in the Bible.”

Our main goal was to help students explore the Scriptures in order to understand God’s intent for the relationship between the genders. Along the way we hoped to see students experience healing, equipping and, of course, a shift in their preconceived paradigms.

By and large, mission(s) accomplished.

In particular, for many of the men in the room the week was an opportunity to have their theology challenged. Like Tertullian, these men have been breathing the air of male privilege long enough to have their worldviews firmly pegged with patriarchy as their default setting. So praise God with me that after last week they are on a different journey.

Two of the men are poets, and with their permission I’m going to share their pieces. Read and enjoy the sound, the sound of a paradigm shifting.

Here’s Darren’s piece:


A chasm? A Valley? A Wall?
Yes a Wall
Firm and smooth
Cold and calculated

Perfected by years of patient building
Piece By Piece
Formed to fit me tight and close.

But there are cracks
They are small now
Reminders of past failures in design

Spider-webbed like glass struck with a blunt object
But these walls are not natural

I didn’t start out this way
I was taught to build
Taught to be strong
Strong for my family
Strong for my friends
Strong for my job
Strong to provide
I was taught by the men around me

But these walls muffle the world around me
I hear it
It is faint
An echo of the true sound
The sound of waves that crash against my walls
The waves of injustice, of women’s plight, of passing of family members,
The cries of shame
The echo’s of the true sound
Rich and vibrant
But the walls whisper of calm and peace
These walls are strong.
I should know I built them

But my heart is stirred by the echo’s
They vibrate at the same frequency
So my heart flutters
But no matter how much it is magnified it is still small
Dampened by the walls themselves

Why did I build these walls?
To support others?…
Sounds good
To protect myself?…
Sadly more likely
But my heart’s flutters hint at a design flaw.
These walls are permanent …
Built to withstand brute force and slow erosion
What now?

Darren Roan
One mans attempt to describe
the emotional barriers
he feels sometimes

And you’ll find Jason’s here.

The Beauty of Feeling Awkward

mWypFbUIf you’re like me, you’re not used to being in the minority. You know? I mean, unless I opt into it, being displaced is a pretty infrequent experience for me. For instance:

I’m a white person, and I spend most of days around white people.
I’m middle class, and most of the people I interact with come from our middle class neighborhood.
I’m male, and the cultural bent toward male privilege means that I’m comfortable in pretty much every situation I encounter.

So the bottom line is that being in the minority only happens for me when I choose it, or when I’ve worked hard over time to create such contexts. As one example, on the ministry team I lead I am actually in the minority in terms of gender, and that’s the result of a lot of intentionality on my part and on the part of others.

With all of this as prologue, let me tell you about my adventure at our school’s PTC (Parent/Teacher Club) meeting this week.

Because the homework was done, the dishes were in the wash and the children were in the bath, Amy and I decided that this week was our week to finally make our PTC meeting debut. I mean, it’s only taken us 7 years.

So I got my jacket on, walked over to school, found the library, walked through the door and immediately thought:

“Ah, so THIS is where female privilege lives!”

Yep, aside from our school’s principal, who is paid to be there, I was the only man in sight.

So, feeling all sorts of dissonance, I took my seat at the PTC table.  Let me offer a couple of reflections on my PTC displacement experience:

First, I felt keenly out of place. As in, “one of these people is not like the others.” It was awkward. And where do you think I sat? Yep, right next to the principal. After all, there’s strength in numbers! I couldn’t help but think about how awful it must be for folks on the margins who feel this way day in, day out.

Next, as we started to work through the agenda, I realized that I was going to be spending the evening being the expert on all things male. As in, “so, would dads want to come to an event like this one we’re talking about?” I kept thinking, “wait a second, I’m just one guy, and I think I’m pretty unusual or atypical, so don’t ask me to speak for all of the men at this school.” Again, how often does this happen to the marginalized around us?

After 17+ years in campus ministry, I can testify that displacement is a helpful thing. More than that, I think it’s just about the main thing. I’ve seen it time and again, where students grow more through even a brief displacement experience than during a whole semester on campus.

Simply put, there’s power in choosing to be the minority.

As I wrestle with how to hold my male privilege, I want to continue to choose displacement. It’s important for me to feel out of sorts, as it both gives me a chance to grow and it helps me to empathize with others.

At the end of the night, the PTC president asked if I wanted to give my phone number so she could invite me to be more involved. My answer? “Yep, but I’m bringing a buddy next month!”

What about you? How can you choose displacement this week?

On Changing Perspectives

A_o6GVICMAA1R_S.jpg largePerspective shifts are hard. New things are hard. Taking on a new paradigm while releasing an old one is hard. I think there’s something inside most of us that automatically resists change. It’s sort of our default setting.

Three days ago at Urbana I watched hundreds of college students do a hard thing. Actually, they did the hardest thing. Captured by the truth of the Gospel and smitten in a fresh way by Jesus, they embraced a new-found faith and started (or re-started) their adventure with Jesus. How powerful to watch these students open up glow sticks in a darkened arena, symbolically admitting that, like Peter, Jesus is more qualified to run their lives then they are themselves.

Similarly, surrendering male privilege requires a shift of perspective. It begins with admitting that this thing exists. And for many, it will be hard. Because of this, let me put forward what I think is the biggest key to embracing this or any other new paradigm:

Cultivating a posture of curiosity.

That’s it. I think becoming a curious person is the key to admitting that a new thing could actually be true. Curious people ask thoughtful questions. They’re observant. They aren’t along for the cultural ride; instead, they are compassionately analytical and engaged.

I take my cue from the apostle Paul in Acts 17:16-34. It’s a great passage. Paul gets dropped off in Athens and evidently he has some time to kill. So he wanders around, paying attention. He’s curious. And, evangelist that he is, Paul uses the time to carefully discern the spiritual climate in the city.

Fast forward some time later and now Paul is preaching at the Areopagus. The Athens Areopagus was a world-renown debate hall; according to the text, it was a place where people “talked about and listened to the latest ideas.” For the young faith and its anointed evangelist, this was a critical moment.

So check out how Paul starts his sermon:

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”

And with that statement Paul redeems his curiosity for a relevant and contextual proclamation of the Gospel. As a result, Athenians make the same decision that the students did at Urbana this week.

So let me invite you to cultivate a posture of curiosity. You won’t come to a place where you are able to admit that male privilege exists if you do not. So, go ahead, take the Tertullian Challenge this week and look around you for examples of male privilege in your context. Be like Paul and just pay attention. And when you see something, let me know.

What about you? How can you cultivate a posture of curiosity in your life?