Sunday, October 9, 2016

We. Need. Scaffolding.

In our Detroit explorations, we've come across the Dequindre Cut, a bike and walkway running from the Eastern Market to the Riverfront.  Along the way, there are some amazing moments of art and expression.

All week, I've been moved by the one to the left: We Need Scaffolding.  It's probably no accident that in my conversations with local Christian folks and the sermons I've heard the last two weekends have had to do with the important necessity to ask for help.  To ask for help often.  It may not always feel very "American" to admit we need something and need to rely upon another to get it, but it certainly is resoundingly human.

A few years ago, our Los Angeles home congregation, Hollywood Presbyterian Church, needed to renovate its steeple as it was a safety hazard.  From the outward appearance, nothing looked wrong.  But Rafael, the guy who holds all the keys, showed it to me from the inside.  Plaster and bricks had been crumbling, and without immediate repair it could wreak all kinds of havoc in a moderate to severe earthquake.  Thus started a capital campaign, as the city wouldn't allow the church to take down the steeple without being fined for altering a pending landmark on the register of historical sites, but the federal government would fine us heavily through OSHA if it wasn't repaired.  A huge scaffold went up, skeleton-ed around the entire southwest corner of our sanctuary.

Scaffolds sometimes go up to help with cleaning a facade.  In this case, they went up to hold the building up as it was transformed from within.

We all need friends and communities to scaffold us, as we are all works in progress.  We might become really good at "outward facing" strength, but inside, we all have a bit of a crumble.  Can I get a witness?

A symptom of Whiteousness that I see is the inability to own our internal crumble.  We are either too proud, too scared, or too oblivious to recognized that we, too, need help.  Even if we're not currently on welfare (as my family is: on Medicare and maybe food stamps during this time of income instability).  Even if we're not currently without a job or underemployed (as we are: I'm driving for Lyft while we are waiting on some other potential prospects we've submitted resumes to).  Even if we think we've got all our shit together, we still are not above being the interdependent creatures God designed us to be.  But: White people, even the woke and good ones, forget this far too often.

It was a dear African-American and Vietnamese community in New Orleans that helped me recognize this 18 years ago.  I need to ask for help, I need to ask for help.  I need to remember that isn't a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength in humility.  I have not learned this from modern politics, or even always from the pulpit.  It's from the folks that I have had to ask for help from.  And it's saved my life.  Laying down the pride actually strengthened me.  Laying down the White Savior complex brought me to a more real understanding of my actual purpose and power to play a role in moving the arc of history towards greater justice.  Laying down the "esteemed life" (at least the one always referenced in movies and television shows), I have learned that there is more in embracing reality as an ebb and flow of lament and joy.

I am publically, alongside an additional effort with some very trusted individuals, asking for help.

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.  - James 3:17-18, MSG

Yesterday, I posted a scathing blog.  90% of it was directly out of the Bible, also written by James.  It was about the power, both the curse-worthy and bless-worthy power, of the human tongue.  It was, directly, a response to the minimizing I keep hearing about nasty, nasty, bottom of the gutter repulsive things a particular person running for a particular office keeps saying.  Sayings about people and sayings about deeds and actions one is able to get away with when one is at a particular level in society.  Immediately after pushing PUBLISH, another verse came into my heart and thinking:

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. - Matthew 7:5 NASB

Here is the log in my own eye.  Here's where I'm asking for a comprehensive scaffolding:

The woman who agreed to marry me 11 and a half years ago, and still mostly thinks that is a worthwhile decision, is in deep pain.  We have just moved our lives across the country: our two girls and two pet mice and roughly 60% of the belongings we held in LA.  It's all rolled along the complicated blessing of our nation's interstate system to relocate in downtown Detroit.  Here we are.

During the 6,000 miles we put on our Honda CR-V, we had many great moments and locked in memories that will permanently be a part of our family story.

But some of those memories are terrible, and I wish I could flip it and reverse it  (Missy Elliott is pretty popular on 101.5 The Bounce, Detroit's new Throw-Back R&B).

Like the screaming fight in Pasadena.
Like the almost getting on a plane in Phoenix, alone.
Like the freak-out moment, in the car with the girls, somewhere in Navajo country between Denver and Austin.
Like the huge war we waged upon the first month in Michigan, one where I had to move out of my parents' home to gather myself.

I am not proud of any of this, but it is true.  One might say: well, you are under great stress and duress with such a huge move.  Yes.  One might say, a road trip, being stuck in the car together for that long is bound to bring up some unique and potent conflicts.  Yes, again.

But here's the rub: I am guilty of verbally attacking my wife.  Now, she is a human being, and she has hurt me in deep ways.  And she is owning that to the best of her abilities and I can see that.  I'm also afraid we'll never quite get to the zenith of understanding and grace I imagine we can achieve.  And that fear gets out of control sometimes and boils over.

However, I am also placing all kinds of pressures and expectations and unclear demands.  And when she doesn't read my mind fully, I have succumbed to screaming at her.  So much so, that she has told me there are times she is afraid to tell me anything.  She is even sometimes anxious when I am coming home, that I might be disappointed with some state of home life and start freaking out about it.  I've never physically hit her, but words, as I reminded you all yesterday, can destroy the entire world, our entire sense of peace at home.

Yes, they really can.

This is horrible.  This is not okay.  Me: the guy who was always seen as a feminist, even as early as middle school.  Me: the guy who claims that Tori Amos' music led him back to exploring the Bible by bravely calling out rape culture and white male hypocrisy in the church.  Me: the guy who fights for space for the unheard voices of our society to be given their days in the sun.  Me: the guy who is so passionate about God's words about the beauty of diversity and community cannot always handle when the strong and sensitive woman who walks this world with him has a different perspective or opinion.  Me.  I just might be the log that needs to be removed.

Though I am not saying statements like our billionaire-du-jour (IRS classification pending), that does not mean that I'm not complicit in the misogynistic culture that belittles women and expects something from any other person without a sincere plan to meet them with an equal effort.  Rape Culture is an evil bedfellow with White Elitism, or Whiteousness, and when myself, a quasi-straight white male, decides to wield anger to gain power over a situation when I feel weak or scared, I am a participant in both rape culture and Whiteousness.

I am guilty.  You might not have been able to see that from my steeple, but inside, I have some real decay that needs tending.  I am working with a counselor to find better ways of expressing the way my wife has scared me, has disappointed me, and has left me feeling insecure in our marriage.  I must find those ways soon, or this all might topple down in our next earthquake, with great danger for our daughters.

I need any of you who feel me to hold me up in prayer, in solidarity, and in person when available.  I need the best of the Church, right now.  I need to ask for forgiveness constantly, as my fears are springing up way more often than I'd care to admit, and I need accountability.   Because this whole Table Setters venture doesn't amount to a hill of beans if I can't trust the beauty of the diversity I am preaching.  My new brother-in-activism, Abraham Lateiner, recently wrote this: "Donald Trump is a good illustration of why men should be willing to risk everything in the struggle to end toxic masculinity." 

This is my agreement with that statement, and this is my risk.  If I'm not willing to own my own toxic masculinity and really work on making changes with the help of caring and loving and committed friends, then how could I advocate you do the same?

So I'll end with this: I am filled with a tentative hope.  I have been in similar messes before: in Ann Arbor, in New Orleans, at Lake Winnipesaukee, in West Hollywood, in Reseda.   I have come to terms with my own awfulness, which is, to say, I have named and worked on the damaging outward behaviors of allowing fear to hold sway in my heart.  I did this with admission and asking for help.  I reach out now.  I ask for scaffolding as I work to reshape the stability of my faith to better handle my joys and fears.

And I also challenge all you men out there to own your own "locker room banter."  If you are suspecting you might be abusive to someone in your own life, admit it.  Stop.  Ask for help.  Don't pride yourself on thinking, "well, at least I'm not as bad as him," if you're not willing to first ask the women in your life for their opinion of how you treat them.  Because it does matter.  It should.  We should all be accountable to one another, especially those we have chosen to share life with.  And we should all ask for help with dismantling our internal infrastructures that tend to prefer domination over collaboration.  I need help dismantling my toxic, man-splaining, Whiteousness.  You might need help as well.

So I ask for your prayers.  And I will pray for you,  too.  To all of you who know who you are: thank you for supporting us thus far.  We press forward with greater and greater recognition of our shared humanity at more and more beautiful and interesting tables, on and on.  Now Erykah Badu is playing....

May fear never be on the menu, and when it finds its way in, may we hold hands, link arms, listen and lift each other up, until the temperature is just right to cook the fear right out of the meal and make room to really enjoy the different flavors we all bring.

I am afraid.  I am also encouraged.  Men of all skin tones: let's actually answer this very particular call to be men.  The kind of men we know we ought to be.  The kind of men we know we could be.  If only we could just admit that sometimes we need help from one another to hold each other accountable, that we don't have to get it all right all the time, but that when we falter, we need strong support to pull us back up.  And sometimes, we need to admit that women are stronger for having had to endure all the insults and abuse we've hurled on them all these years.

May the strength and scaffolding of the incredible women in our lives be an inspiration for us to become stronger men, from the inside out.

 +Matthew John Schmitt

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


  1. You are very brave in expressing your own insensitivity. It is harder to be as kind to those closest to us as we are to others. We should be more kind and loving in our own families. Somewhere in the New Testament is stated,"How we treat each other is how others will know we are Christians." Your mother and I will be part of your scaffolding. Dad

  2. Forgive, pray, and submit to your wife. When one forgives, you don't have permission to get a fishing rod and go retrieve it from the sea of forgiveness. Been there, ��