Two Reposts: Pursuing Questions That Lead to the Answer[er] & Finding a Culture’s Quest/ion

“Gold Guy With Question” (c) Scott Maxwell / Fotolia #16798720, Licensed to Brad Sargent.

Introduction (2017)

Questions are something I find central to pretty much everything I do in terms of professional work, personal ministry, and pastimes. Editing is about questioning a text to see if what it says makes sense — or, if not, how to work with the author to refine it so it does. Research writing involves questions that guide the search for details (Who did what?), timelines (When did that happen, and how did that shape the context of what happened?), personal profiles (Who are you, and what drives your life in the pathway that you’re on?), and practicalities (What went wrong, why, and how can we repair that?). As to hobbies, I especially enjoy movies because, it seems to me, each one typically wrestles with two or three Big-Idea-Earth-Shattering-Or-Life-Shaping Questions. So, if I can identify those questions, I have a resource to share with people who are looking for an answer, or who’ve been living out an answer that doesn’t really fit The Question That Drives Their Life.

Anyway, I recently became acquainted with someone who really, REALLY likes the topic of questions. So, I thought I’d edit and repost these for my new friend’s enjoyment. I wrote the first one for Advent almost a decade ago in 2008. That same year, I republished an article from 2004 about questions the catalyze subcultures — another topic I find very intriguing, especially since it ties right in with social change. (I first wrote about subculturization in 1997 and, if all goes well, I’ll be able to pick up that thread again sometime soon to revisit it from the angle of social movements and how social entrepreneurs can navigate them.)

  • Hope Awaits: Pursuing Questions That Lead to the Answer[er] (2008)
  • Finding a Culture’s Quest/ion and Shaping Their Transformative Trajectory (2004)

I hope friends old and new will find something of interest in these articles, in picking up new questions or polishing reflections from old ones. Continue reading

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World AIDS Day and Remembering Dr. Lalia Phipps Boone

Today is a significant day of remembrance for me. December 1st is World AIDS Day, which was set in place to encourage awareness of HIV/AIDS and those who are infected or affected by it. December 1, 1990, I attended a Christian conference on HIV/AIDS ministry, and that was part of what confirmed my “calling” to spend as much time as I could over the next seven years, writing and editing resource materials for HIV ministries and churches.

December 1, 1990, was also the day that Lalia Phipps Boone – my mentor in editing – passed away at age 83. Without her influence, I likely wouldn’t have become a writer of HIV ministry resources or much of anything else. So, I want to honor her memory today by telling you a little about her and how my connection with her changed the entire course of my life … and perhaps therefore the course of yours.

I met Lalia in 1982 when I was 27 and she was 75. Lalia was a wonderful sister in Christ, with a long heritage in the church. Her father was a circuit riding preacher in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

She was also an incredible intellectual and pioneer. Lalia was the first woman Ph.D. from the University of Florida, and  their first woman professor. That was in 1951. She could have gotten that degree in any of about four fields, because she’d done the coursework for all four: medieval English literature, medieval French literature, children’s literature, and linguistics. She also had an associates degree in music, bachelors in education, and masters in linguistics (for which her thesis was the first Dictionary of Petroleum Engineering — she’d grown up in Texas near the oil fields and knew the lingo there). She also worked with the Nez Perce nation, assisting them with preserving their language. And EVERYTHING she ever wrote for publication was published, and her professional “curriculum vitae” of experience and publications was 12 pages long, single-spaced.

Her writings included four sets of school books in language arts skills. Lalia produced these textbooks “in her spare time” by dividing the task into “do-able bits” that would take 15 to 30 minutes each. She wrote the task sentence for one “bit” on a single piece of paper – for instance, “Vocabulary words for Lesson #12” – and then posted all the papers across her office wall. She’d pull a page off the wall to complete whenever she had a 15- or 30-minute break between teaching classes at the University, or whenever. (I don’t use quite the same methods, but being mentored by Lalia certainly increased my understanding of how to be disciplined and productive as a writer, so that for most of the last 25 years, I’ve written at least 300 to 500 pages of material a year.)

Lalia noticed in me a raw ability to edit and write, and she trained me in the skills of “content editing,” which involves tearing an entire manuscript apart at times and completely shuffling and pasting the pieces back together into an order that works better. This is not the same as “copy editing,” which deals more with proofreading for spelling and grammar errors, correcting inconsistent format, and the like.

This is how her mentoring me happened. We worked side by side on an outrageous autobiography manuscript. It was outrageous because the author — a flamboyant woman who had become a Christian at age 59 and then died in 1982 at age 70 while smuggling Bibles into Eastern Europe — had written a 400-page manuscript that had NO chapter divisions, only a couple very long paragraphs per page, and Pauline-length sentences (some of them an entire paragraph long). Uh-huh … whoa … yow!

I called Lalia after our mutual missionary friend was killed on the road to Romania: “Hi — you don’t know me, but I’m a friend of [NAME] and I heard she left her autobiography manuscript with you to edit … I don’t know if you need someone to run errands or get photocopies or do retyping, but I would be available to help.”

To my surprise, Lalia invited me to take a copy of the manuscript, read it, come back in about a week, and tell her where I thought the chapter divisions should be in the book. I was clueless that this was a test, because I’d just expected to run errands, if anything, for her. When I came back in a week or so, I said, “I divided it into chapters, but I also think there are eight sections of chapters.”

She asked me to tell her where they were, so I read off the pages where new sections began … or so I thought. Meanwhile, she flipped through her stack, which had slips of salmon-colored paper sticking out of it. (This was before Post-It Notes were big stuff.) I kept reading, and she kept flipping and mumbling neutral-sounding things like, “Mmm.”

After I finished, she looked up and said, “I normally don’t work with people editing, but I think you’ll be of help!” We had hit EXACTLY, word-for-word in seven out of the eight section beginnings. The eighth section, we were only one paragraph off, and that paragraph could either have ended the previous section, or begun a new section.

Lalia told me later she was thinking, Oh, no, Lord! Don’t send me someone to train — my health can’t take it! But she told me to come over and we’d talk about it. Definitely had to be the Spirit nudging her, as I wasn’t anyone who’d be taken notice of as a writer then. So that is the story of how Lalia Phipps Boone and I met, and how God forged a mentor-protégé relationship between us.

From Lalia, I also learned that there a supernatural side to editing. “We can have all the natural ability in the world to edit this,” she confided, “but we are going to need the Holy Spirit working in and through us on this. So, let’s pray!” We prayed every time we met to go over the editing that God would guide us, and for the material to become what it needed to be in God’s plan.

This became a practice I seek to maintain whenever I start a new project myself or work with others on theirs, and also in the midst of the writing or editing. It simply will not become what it could and should be unless I/we steep it in prayer. When I’m project manager or editor on a client’s manuscript, I typically suggest they find a group of people who will pray regularly for us. And the writer sends out periodic updates so this prayer team hears of progress and problems.

After I learned the craft of editing with Lalia, God opened up opportunities for me to learn various dimensions in the craft of writing. (The two aren’t exactly the same, and not everyone who edits well can write well, and vice versa.) Through a follow-up project about the missionary who wrote the autobiography, I learned the craft of interviewing, as I spent about eight months total over the next five years traveling and talking with people who knew her. I also learned substantially more about the art of writing book proposals, as I tried over and over to get that book and others published.

Before I met Lalia Boone, it never occurred to me that writing should or could be the focal point of my ministry! It’s astounding, really. Who could’ve guessed that my taking a risk and making a simple phone call to offer to run errands for someone I didn’t even know, would lead to one of the most strategic changes of direction in my entire life. Knowing Dr. Lalia Phipps Boone drew me toward a deep discovery of who God made me to be as a ministry resource writer in His redemptive plans, on HIV/AIDS, systemic abuse and recovery, and many other topics for people typically marginalized by the Church. This is where my passion to make a difference finds its channel.

Years from now, who will look back and say that I was a mentor who helped change his/her life by a mutual choosing to persevere in Christ together and learn from each other?

Years from now, who will look back and say that about you? I truly hope you have this kind of mentor-protégé experience. It will enrich your own life and expand the Kingdom!

Perhaps this is a good day to call to mind those men and women and children God has used to shape the course of our own life and ministry, and give thanks to Him and to them …

Lyvonne Picou’s Research on Black Christian Women Survivors of Male Sexual Violence

by Brad Sargent, aka brad/futuristguy,

and cross-posted at Spiritual Sounding Board.

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I am fiercely committed to addressing the taboo and stigma attached to childhood sexual abuse (CSA) in the Black community.”
~ Lyvonne Proverbs Picou

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Occasionally, I find out about surveys or other research related to specific groups in survivor communities. When I do, I encourage people to participate if they’re part of the group under consideration. Even if they’re not, such research findings always contribute to our greater understanding of dynamics involved in various aspects of abuse, violence, sexual misconduct, etc. So, I want to make people aware of Lyvonne’s important research work.

Mutual friends in the social entrepreneurship world of Do Good X recently connected me with Lyvonne “Proverbs” Picou, whose research focuses on African-American women survivors of male sexual violence. Her 13-question confidential survey is posted here:

https://goo.gl/Z42XwA

We got together this past week for coffee and conversation. She shared about her work in African-American churches to bring awareness about male sexual violence against women, about becoming “surthrivors” (a term she coined in 2009), and about how the church needs to shift its culture and language. Lyvonne has a lot of insight into personal recovery and how the arts can play into that, plus ideas and practices local churches can implement to make a positive difference.

Plus I asked Lyvonne to share some of her spoken word work (“Proverbs” is her handle for poetry slams and preaching). She performed a stunning piece about Rahab that I could only describe as “elegant”!

Lyvonne had asked me to share some about my work on systems and systemic abuse in Christian organizations. So, I talked about vastly different types of control systems I’d experienced in various churches, how these can interlock with other organizations to create a Christian industrial complex, and different roles people end up playing, from perpetrators to pawns, in getting an abusive system up and running, or keeping it going.

Then she asked about case studies I knew of on spiritual abuse or sexual misconduct in predominantly African-American churches and ministries. I could only come up with two situations at the time, and in the days since have come up with a few more that I’ve seen addressed on survivor-type blogs. I know there are more – I’ve seen blurbs in news reports or social media. Which leads me to a lot of questions:

  • Why don’t these seem to receive much coverage on survivor blogs?
  • Are we overlooking them?
  • Do we not attract a racially diverse readership, and if so, why?
  • Do we tend to focus on certain theologies, and so are missing some that may be more prominent in African-American churches?

Much to learn … So, I’m looking forward to hearing more from Lyvonne as she continues her research, because the communities she’s in touch with are ones we need to know more about. For instance, I’ve been aware of long-standing general estimates that one out of three girls will be the victims of sexual abuse before age 18. But from one of Lyvonne’s posts, It’s Not a Scandal, It’s a System, I learned of this specific research:

The Black Women’s Blueprint has an ongoing study that found 60% of Black women are sexually abused before they turn 18-years-old. Sixty. Percent. And, since the Black church is 85% women, that means that half of Black church congregations have been sexually abused.

If you’re interested in more about Lyvonne’s educational and theological training, “beautiful scars” ministry, and research work, you’ll find her website here: Lyvonne. The About page has links to her social media accounts plus YouTube videos of her as preacher, poet, and educator.

Meanwhile, thanks for considering participation in this important study – and please share the survey link!

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Four – Challenge #2

Continuing Challenges in Survivor Blog Communities

Challenge #2 – Listen for the Natural Limits

of Crowd-Sourced Fact Gathering.

A few years ago, I posted an article entitled, Is It Time to Tell My Story? It included suggestions and questions for working through our experiences as survivors of abuse. The two main goals behind doing this were (1) to gain insight by processing what happened to us, (2) so we could share it and hopefully help prevent others from likewise experiencing abuse or help them recover if they’ve been victimized.

One of the frameworks I presented was on different kinds of information. This is important for social media, because – as we’ve seen the trend increasing over recent years – it is full of inaccuracies and outright falsehoods. Some people naively post alt.facts as if they were accurate and legitimate, or disinformation that mixes a bit of truth but the rest is askew, or intentionally inflammatory theories designed to poke people and get a reaction out of them.

Bottom line: If we accept whatever we read at face value, we’re going to absorb a lot of garbage. We need to think critically so we can respond with discernment. Here is what I posted about differences between various kinds of evidences and critical thinking skills: Continue reading

Critique of the “Church Clarity” Scoring System on LGBTQ Policies

Church Clarity is a recently-launched website that promotes churches — especially evangelical ones — clearly stating on their websites their policies on LGBTQ participation. In the homepage section “Our Solution,” they state “Church Clarity is not advocating for policy changes. Together, we’re establishing a new standard for church policy disclosure: We believe that churches have a responsibility to be clear about their policies on their primary websites.” They also state that they “believe that ambiguity is harmful and clarity is reasonable.”

To these ends, their team created a classification/scoring system for how a church website communicates their policies on LGBTQ. So far, their team has applied this system mostly to mega-churches, and they also provide a means for crowd-sourcing information and assessments.

I am for transparency and clarity. And on this issue in particular that has been so contentious, it seems reasonable to expect a church’s or denomination’s overall stance to be accessible and clear for those who seek that information. However, is that assumption fully and really so, does the scoring schema work for all contemporary systems of theologies and policies, and is this enterprise potentially about something besides seeking clarity in disclosure? Continue reading

A “Systems Approach” and Some Historical Background on Dealing with Abuse and Violence

To deal with “systemic abuse,” we must understand systems, victimization, and what makes individuals and institutions vulnerable.

By Brad Sargent with input from Julie Anne Smith.

Cross-posted as a guest post at Spiritual Sounding Board.

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How will our church serve those who’ve suffered the harm of childhood sexual abuse, and seek to prevent it from happening to others? On this difficult but foundational issue of human dignity and care, will we choose conscience and compassion – or corrosion and complacency? The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide and the range of other resources from GRACE equip us with clear definitions, well-organized knowledge, and practical skills to follow a right and righteous path on these global problems of violence and abuse.

In the previous post, I gave a brief preview of key features for The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide from a systems perspective, and listed other resources from GRACE and New Growth Press. In this post, I will add my thoughts on the big picture of systemic abuse, why we’ve needed a set of resources to deal with it, and share some personal and historical perspectives on how the Policy Guide and other books produced by GRACE represent answers to some longstanding prayers. Continue reading

Book Review: The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide, by Boz Tchividjian and Shira Berkovits

Key component in a system of resources on child sexual abuse for policy makers, survivors, educators, and advocates.

By Brad Sargent with input from Julie Anne Smith.

Cross-posted as a guest post at Spiritual Sounding Board.

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Spiritual Sounding Board was invited to participate in the Litfuse “blog tour” for the recently released Child Safeguarding Policy Guide. They asked us to post a one-paragraph summary of our overall response to this resource book, so that could be used as an excerpt on other sites. Here is what I wrote:

How will our church serve those who’ve suffered the harm of childhood sexual abuse, and seek to prevent it from happening to others? On this difficult but foundational issue of human dignity and care, will we choose conscience and compassion – or corrosion and complacency? The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide and the range of other resources from GRACE equip us with clear definitions, well-organized knowledge, and practical skills to follow a right and righteous path on these global problems of violence and abuse.

Available reviews of the Policy Guide share about its concepts and content from a variety of angles. Already posted on Amazon are great summaries, detailed insights from church leaders, poignant personal accounts from survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Litfuse Publicity Group has review excerpts and links to full posts, and New Growth Press, which published this book, has additional endorsements.

In this post, I will give a brief preview of key features from a systems perspective, and list other resources from GRACE and New Growth Press. In a follow-up post, I will add my thoughts on the big picture of systemic abuse, why we’ve needed a set of resources to deal with it, and share some personal perspectives on how the Policy Guide and other books produced by GRACE represent answers to some longstanding prayers. Continue reading