SheLeads: Under Fire

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Just like fire, burning out the way.
If I can light the world up for just one day,
Watch this madness, colorful charade,
No one can be just like me any way.
—“Just like Fire” (2016),
Written by: Alecia Moore, Max Martin, Karl Johan Schuster, Oscar Holter

We’ve all been under fire. Sometimes it can be a full-scale assault from a known adversary who is always on the other side of an issue from us. Sometimes it can be friendly-fire that strikes when we least expect it and decidedly takes us out with one well-timed attack.

Defeat can flatten us. Determination motivates us to get back up. And what we do next can have weighty repercussions on the people and positions with whom we are in the arena.

I, too, have found myself in these situations. At times, I have navigated these attacks well, coming out on the other side intact and aligned with my values. But I have also learned from my mistakes. By not allowing my raw gut response to unleash a self-righteous apocalypse, destroying all in my path, I have been able to step back, re-align all the pieces of my posture, my presence and my position in order that I might respond powerfully and unapologetically.

Respond or React. Realign or Retaliate.

These are the choices we are faced with. And believe me, the latter often feels much more {temporarily} satisfying. Inevitably, some regret and self-doubt creeps in. Even if we won the argument and destroyed our adversary, we are often left with a feeling of loss at the fractured shreds of shared humanity that have slipped through our fingers.

And when we bring Jesus into the equation, we love to include him in justifying our outrage by re-imagining the Matthew 21 narrative: Jesus whipped up in a frenzy, overturning tables and wreaking havoc on the temple shysters all in the name of justice and restoring balance to the kingdom. Jesus got things done, damn!

But our western lens on this event too often fails to examine the layers of nuance that the parallel texts of this same event uncovers. (See Mark 11; John 2.) It is less violent and more prophetic. Less angry, more cleansing.

When I look to Jesus for wisdom in how to respond to injustice and being personally attacked, the entirety of the gospels needs to inform my approach and the breadth of his interactions needs to shape my own behaviours.

So when I recall Jesus writing in the dust, with a circle of abusive religious men armed with rocks and patriarchy surrounding him, time seems to stand still as they slowly read what he writes, drop their rocks and walk away. He could have easily called each one of them out, naming their sin and shame and unleashing holy havoc on them as he protected this vulnerable, yet not entirely blameless woman accused of adultery. (John 8)

And when he stoops down to heal the ear of the Roman soldier poised to march him away to his violent, humiliating death, Jesus turns to his beloved Peter and rebukes him for his serious lack of impulse control, reminding him that there is a large purpose unfolding and to stay focused on the big picture. (John 18)

Jesus never backed away from engaging the hardest of conversations. Jesus confronted injustice and aligned his purpose with his behaviour, standing up to bullies and calling out unrighteousness. But how and why he did it, should be the framework from which we, too, enter into the dangerous work of rising up.

So when we find ourselves under fire, and we most certainly will, I would like to suggest five considerations to help navigate the scorching heat we may find ourselves experiencing. As I have studied Jesus’ positions and postures and have put myself on the front lines of engagement over the years, these five principles have evolved with greater clarity, supporting and amplifying my voice and opportunities for influence.

1. Anticipate. {Bring it on}: Fire will come. When we stand up and let our voices lead our convictions in a public way, our message will not resonate with everyone. It just won’t. In fact, it may unleash very strong opposition from sometimes, surprising places. When I am preparing to weigh into an issue, I ask myself, “Am I ready for the opponents who may surface today/ tomorrow/ this week? Am I mentally and emotionally prepared to engage them?” If not, I may have to work through what’s going on inside of me first before I set myself up to interact with opposition. It would be just as foolish for me to start running a 10K race tomorrow without first having done some training beforehand. While I cannot predict my finishing time in the race, I would have prepared myself as best as I could to set myself up for success.

2. What’s my Motivation? This one can be tricky to answer but it is vitally important that we do so. What is my motivation in engaging this issue and with the medium, words, tone and content I am using? Is it to educate people, provoke conversation, unleash my own frustration, shame someone else? The answer to this question will shape how others interact with your ideas. (It doesn’t predict how they will respond, but helps shape the narrative with which you are wanting to engage.) Be brutally honest with why you are weighing in as well as the subsequent conversations in which you may find yourself engaged. Ask yourself, “Why am I responding to certain people, certain comments or questions in a particular way? What am I wanting to see happen here? What is the purpose of being in the arena with this idea or these individuals?” I try to identify two or three key words that fuel my motivation on a particular topic in order for me to be clear about the what and the why and not allow someone else’s motivation to highjack the narrative.

3. Check my Bias & Come Clean with it: The lens or framework from which we are taking this stand comes from how we see the world and what’s important to us. So when we give ourselves permission to speak up from our own lived experiences, we really need to offer the same permission to others who may see the world from an entirely different perspective. Often, I will let my readers/ colleagues/ companions know the inherent bias from which I am addressing an issue in order to set some context as to why I feel so passionate about what I am about to engage in, and why this propels me to weigh into complex, often divisive issues. Conversely, when I encounter opposition from someone, I try to stay curious about the lens from which they are coming, asking myself, “What makes this issue important to them? What do the words, tone or position they are taking, tell me about their motivation to enter into the arena with this issue?”

4. Commit to Posture Over Position: How do you want to show up in the thick of it all? Not how do you want people to perceive you, but how do you want to show up? This question daily brings me back in alignment with my values and how I want to live all of my life. For me, truth-telling, trustworthiness and being an honoring influencer has to supersede my desire to be right or to win an argument. It has to be the foundation of who I am and how I live out my calling. At the end of the day, the only person I can ever change is myself and the only person whose opinion of me matters in how I showed up that day is my Creator. When my posture is more important than my position, I am going to shut things down that go sideways or go down ugly paths. I am going to respond in love that is committed to truth, yet yields to grace and mercy when needed. I will keep my head above the waves when being thrown into deep waters, knowing I can swim safely to shore.

5. Be Clear About the Desired Outcome: This final principle is connected to motivation. What is it that I want to see happen in this exchange? Do I want to change people’s opinions? Do I want them to take action? Do I want to inform or educate individuals so that after engaging with me on a particular issue, they may have some new information or a different way of looking at a complex issue? At the end of it all, what would success look like for me? Having an end in mind can help us shape the beginning and middle of any engagement/ dialogue/ discussion. For me, at the end of a particularly difficult discourse, my goal is two-fold: 1) respectful, vigorous dialogue took place (as opposed to grand-standing monologues); and 2) a shift has occurred, be it ever so slight, whereby the possibility of a new way of looking at an issue, a relationship or an ideology has resulted.

Reflect:

So, sisters, what have you learned about yourself from being in the arena while under fire?

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Brenda-Lee Sasaki
I am an unapologetic extrovert who can’t help but invite all I encounter to jump into my abundant, venti life, usually around a table with sweets or savories and often accompanied by a full-bodied merlot or quad americano. I preach (sometimes), teach (most of the time), read, write and research (all of the time), coach and strategize (when invited), and make mischief (as often as possible.) I am a fierce ally and advocate for brothers and sisters on the fringes of mainstream western evangelicalism. I am wife to 1, mom to 3 and Auntie B to many.
Brenda-Lee Sasaki
Brenda-Lee Sasaki

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