Violence, Silence, and Complicity

This true story contains homophobic and misogynistic violence, slurs, and threats.  Take care of yourselves while reading.  Blessings, y’all….The Pop Culture Preacher


Silence in the face of violence, implied or realized, is complicity.

Complicity will be the death of America.

We are living in a new, insidious age when systematic violence will hold the highest office in the land. Violence of this kind is not new, it’s just revealed itself broadly, out in the open for everyone to see. So, let me say this again — complicity will be the death of America.

You don’t have to be silent.

Yes. I am looking at you. Yes, you have a voice and volition. You – don’t be silent any more.  Yes, you must speak up and interrupt violence when you see it in your shopping center, hear it in a joke around your holiday dinner table, or know of it when your kids tell stories of what happened at school today.  In our America we see violence, every day, against women, against people of color, against Muslims, against gays/lesbians/bisexual/pansexual folk, against trans* folk, against the poor, against the elderly, against people who live with special needs, against immigrants.  In America, violence happens every day.

Your silence is complicity and we can be complicit no longer.

This is my story.

I’ve never told it publicly. I have been complicit and I have been afraid.

But, the time for that is long past.

This event happened in 1997 in the same room Vice-President Elect Mike Pence slept in during his fraternity years at Hanover College a little over a decade prior.  Make of that what you will.

Here we go.

First, I am responsible for this: the fraternity house was closed to the public and when he said, “I’ll sneak you in,” I said ok. He, B, and I were newly together. It was exciting. I was game.

Second, the truth is this: being where one is not supposed to be does not excuse or legitimize violence.

Now, the story: B and I curled up in a vacant bunk in a corner of the rack room.  It was very late, or incredibly early, depending on your perspective on the day.  Plenty of guys were asleep or passed out. The room was full and no one knew I was there.

B and I drifted off, and then – a noise.  A dull thud from across the room.  The thud became regular and monotonous as a man in my class pounded, with his fist and foot, on the frame of a bunk across the room.

Then, he yelled.

“Get up, faggot!”

He yelled at the man in the bunk, his fraternity brother.  My ears perked. B’s breathing changed. B was awake.

“Get up, faggot!” the man in my class yelled again.

B’s arm tensed.  He heard it too.

“Come on, R!” The man named his target. “Get up and get down here!” A wave of nausea flooded me. I know R. He’s in my class. Hanover College is small — we ALL know each other. The man kept yelling, taunting, teasing, ridiculing with words and slurs and threats all while beating on R’s bunk.

It went on and on.

No one moved.  Not a soul.

Were they all that drunk that not even this storm could stir them? Or, was this so normal, so commonplace in their brotherhood that they’d learned to sleep through the harassment of R for their own sake?

I don’t know which.

We laid there, B and I, listening for I don’t know how long.  The man wouldn’t stop.  And no one did anything.  And I couldn’t live with that any more.

I moved, swiftly. Up, out of B’s arms. Out of the bunk. Up on my feet. One step. Two steps. Three steps. Go. Now. Quick. Determination. Go. Now. Quick. Go. Stop him.

But I only got two steps away.

B grabbed my belt and the back of my jeans. He yanked me into back into bed and held me tight, mouth pressed against my right ear. He said, “You can’t do that. They can’t know you’re here. They can’t know you’ve seen this.  If they know you’re here, I can’t stop what they’ll do to you.”

You know, the scariest thing in the zombie show and movies* – it’s not the zombies.  It’s when the people are scarier than the monsters.

“I can’t stop what they’ll do to you.” What does that mean? Does it mean they’ll beat me or rape me? Does it mean they won’t physically touch me, but I’ll live with threats and intimidation for the rest of my college days, or longer, to ensure I’ll keep their brotherhood’s secret?

I don’t know which.

I didn’t know in the moment and I don’t know now.

So I laid there.  Silent. Listening to that man in my class hurl slurs and threats at R until, sometime later, the rack room door opened and another man entered swiftly to whisk that man away.  I heard whispers of “the traveling chapter consultant.”  A representative of the Phi Gamma Delta national office was present in the house that night.  That’s why the house was closed to visitors.

I don’t know what happened after that, other than this: I laid there, awake, until the first morning’s light.  I made my way out of the room and down those three flights of stairs as fast as I could. “They can’t know you’re here. They can’t know you’ve seen this,” rang in my ear. “If they know you’re here, I can’t stop what they’ll do to you.” Go. Now. Quick. Determination. Go. Now. Quick. Go. Run home.

I ran home and didn’t look back.

And I left R behind.  He was home. He didn’t have any place to run.

I’m sorry, R.  I was afraid for my own safety, too scared to think clearly. I didn’t know what to do.

That’s why it’s important to think about these things beforehand, to be prepared.  Here’s the thing – there were lots of options for interrupting the physical intimidation and verbal violence that was happening. My silence was complicity and we can be complicit no longer.

  • I could’ve gotten up and interceded by standing with R, helping him leave, or confronting the man who was threatening him with the full knowledge that I was putting myself at risk. It’s important to educate yourself about how to be a non-anxious presence and how to protect yourself if you are willing to intercede in situations where you might be bullied or attacked.
  • B could have gotten up and stood between R and the man, helped R move to a different space, or confronted the man. Any man in that room could have done this.  B was the man’s peer and being someone’s peer is powerful.  Your peers will listen to you in a different way than they will another. Eventually, one of the man’s peers did come and take the man away. If you see or hear one of your peers being violent or bigoted, you have particular power to intercede.
  • B or I could’ve notified the national staff person who was in the house so he could intercede. One would hope he would’ve interceded. In any given situation, if you know the people in power, like staff, managers, teachers, administrators, officials, and the like, you may know whether or not they will use their position and power to intercede or not.  There are systems at work – an entire system may need to be held accountable. You may have to apply pressure before people in power will intercede.
  • B or I could’ve called campus security or the police. We must fully acknowledge that calling the authorities is not always helpful to the person being victimized.  This is important: We must acknowledge this. Again, there are systems at work – an entire system may need to be held accountable and we see that happening today. Still, calling the helpers and garnering the support of people trained in deescalating violence is useful, often crucial and critical.
  • B or I could’ve talked with fraternity leaders, campus security, the student affairs office, the dean, or the college president, or any combination of these leaders, the next day in order to curb and prevent such events from happening in the future. We could’ve pushed for accountability. Again, violence is inherent in our systems. If we stay silent, we perpetuate it.
  • There are other ways, I’m sure, that I could have acted.

Our silence will not save us.  Silence will not save America. Complicity will be the death of America when the land of the free and the home of the brave becomes the land of the submissive and the home of the fearful.  But you have power to change the course of history. We each have a sphere of influence.  We each have a voice and volition.  Use yours. We each hold power and can leverage the power we hold in this world for the common good.  Complicity does not serve the common good.  What power do you have? Will you use it?


*Think about it –

  • In 28 Days, the most terrifying part is when the people reach a community only to find the people there are dangerous.  I had nightmares about that movie for weeks.
  • And, in The Walking Dead, please – give me a thousand Walkers over Negan, or the Governor, or the barbecue queen at Terminus any damn day.

But here’s the truth, y’all.  Zombies aren’t real. Our monsters are real, and they’re people, like you and me. We have to use words and reason and relationship, compassion and courage and resolve to survive.

A Hot Mess: Seeing Myself in Father Gabriel

“You play a bad priest so well,” I said to Seth Gilliam, the actor who plays Father Gabriel on AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead.’  “Father Gabriel is a hot mess! Good job!”

Mr. Gilliam smiled.  “Yes, he is.  He is a hot mess.”

Thank you, dear eight pound, six ounce baby Jesus that Mr. Gilliam *did* smile.  The last thing I want to do is offend this gifted actor.  I meant my comment as an absolute compliment. Mr. Gilliam’s  nuanced portrayal of the fumbling Father often elicits visceral reactions from me: I yell at the tv…a lot.  When we found out he hoarded all the canned goods, I bellowed, “Have you forgotten the story of the manna?!?” When Father Gabriel says to Rick, “The wine’s just wine until it’s blessed,” I grunted “Have you forgotten that in the Beginning God called it ALL good?” GAH!  As a clergy person, Father Gabriel drives me batty.

It’s when I turn off the tv and get back to real life that I realize why: Father Gabriel has forgotten who and Whose he is. He is a hot mess, and if I’m being honest here, this pretend pastor gets a rise out of me because I, too, have been a hot mess of a pastor more than once during my 12 year career.  We all have.

Clergy friends, can I get an “Amen”?

We’re just human, like everyone else, and Seth Gilliam’s Father Gabriel reminds me of that every time I watch.

When we first meet Father Gabriel, he’s up on a rock, all alone, isolated from everyone, surrounded by walkers snapping their jaws. To me, that big rock looked like the place in society where clergy are often placed: up on a pedestal. Ordained clergy are “set apart for special service,” but often times, being “set apart” gets misunderstood. Often, church folk, and non-church folk alike, want pastors to be strong and wise and have all the answers. We want pastors and priests to say all the right things, at all the right times, to kindly remind us we’re loved and beloved, while also speaking truth to power. We want them to care for the widow and the orphan, and be the vanguard of the marginalized, all while not offending any one. We want them to be like Jesus – the nice version of Jesus we’ve cherry-picked from scripture. We want pastors and priests to be perfect.

God forbid our pastors ever, actually, be human beings.

A couple of days ago, I ran into new congregants of mine out for lunch with friends. “Looks like you had a great birthday!” they said, commenting on my social media pics from Walker Stalker Chicago. “We loved seeing your pictures with all those people from the zombie show.” They turned to their friends and explained, “She loves ‘The Walking Dead.’”

One of the friends raised an eye brow, “I hope you’re stronger than Father Gabriel.”

I’ve only just met this person and already I’m up on that rock as clergy-walker-bait.

“To be fair,” I said, “I think we’d all be a hot mess in the zombie apocalypse, don’t you?” The truth is, whereas the zombie apocalypse hasn’t struck yet, we all (clergy and laity alike) have experienced our own personal apocalypses: betrayal by those intimate with us, death of loved ones, financial catastrophe, loss of work, feelings of insecurity, depression, frustrations with family and friends and children, health crises, addictions, grief, and other gut-wrenching tragedies all amidst the daily grind of life. And even though my colleague, the Rev. Elizabeth Dilley, likes to describe me as “the one who would win if there was such a thing as ‘Pastors Fight Club’” the truth is, I’m not always a badass. I’m not always stronger than Father Gabriel.  I’m not always confident or sure of myself, and I do not get it right all the time. Far from it.

I’m human and I’m a pastor and God knows those two things are hard to hold together.

After the birth of my eldest daughter I found myself isolated, with the jaws of postpartum depression (PPD) snapping at me left and right. I felt like Father Gabriel in his inaugural moment: up on a rock, all by myself, helpless, and terrified. As a clergy person watching that scene, remembering the personal apocalypse that was my PPD, when my whole world fell apart and I had to find a way to just survive somehow, I saw that rock he found himself on in a different way. It was like the pedestal we’re often put up on as clergy which I had internalized. I remember being so afraid of what people would think of me as a clergyperson when I realized I had PPD. “But I’m The Pastor. I’m not supposed to be the one who needs help. I’m supposed to be the one who helps other people.”  PPD threatened to consume me, but so did the unrealistic expectations with which clergy are so often saddled, which I had swallowed whole.

God forbid we allow ourselves as pastors to actually be human.

Thank God somebody showed up before I got consumed by it all. My friend Katie put her own newborn baby in the car, told her husband she’d be back (but I didn’t know when), then drove six hours north to be with me, and spent weeks with us during my leave of absence from church. Katie T., who has known me since I was 16 and is also a clergyperson, knows me without all the pretense – she’d never put me up on a pedestal, and yet, because she’s also a Pastor, she’s often found herself up there, too.  She, and a PPD therapist, helped me climb down from that precarious position.  That which threatened to consume me, both the depression and my own outlandish expectations, lost their bite.  I came down off the rock of isolation and remembered who and Whose I really am – Leah, beloved child of God, wife, lover, mother, daughter, friend, and soul-sister who struggles with health and wellness just like anyone. I am a pastor, an ally, an artist, a writer, member of the creative class, and yes, an avid fan of the Walking Dead.

I am a messy human being, with all the complicated characteristics that make us who we are.  Thank God.

Maybe Father Gabriel isn’t such a bad priest after all.  Maybe he’s just forgotten who he is – who doesn’t when their world falls apart – and I put him up there on a pedestal like so often happens to me.  So, Father Gabriel, and all you real pastors and priests out there, you can be a hot mess and still be a good clergy person – remember who and Whose you are: a human being whose set apart.  Remember that and you’ll find yourself again.

Blessings, y’all…


P.S. This post was also inspired by going to Clergy Boundary Training this week, and pastors, you know what that’s all about.  If you do find yourself up there on that rock with some nasty thing or another nipping at your heels, call a colleague.  Call your therapist.  Talk to your Spiritual Director.  Take an extra day off.  Take care of yourself.  As Parker Palmer says, “Self care is never a selfish act.”

A Pentecost Moment Among “The Walking Dead”

While prepping for Pentecost, which pops up this Sunday in the church calendar, I looked up last year’s sermon and re-watched it on our Community UCC YouTube channel.

And, y’all, I forgot how much I LOVE THIS SERMON!

Know why? Because I talk about ‘The Walking Dead’ in it a lot.  A whole lot. And as you know from the Pop Culture Preacher’s short, little history here on the blog, I love, love, love this show. If you are a TWD fanatic, you will eat this up. If you aren’t a fan of the show, as many in my congregation weren’t at the time….I’ve won them over since…..don’t worry, you won’t be lost.

But I also love this sermon because I really tell it like it is: The world often feels like it is falling apart, and yet, here we are, trying to find our way through it together. It’s the only way — we have to do it together. That’s the way it works in the TWD world, and that’ll preach.

You can watch “A Pentecost Moment Among ‘The Walking Dead’” here.  Spoiler alert: if you are not up to Episode 12, season 5, get on it! Go catch up, then come on back.

Blessings, y’all….

Pop Culture Preacher


Slice: the Work of Remembering & Being You

{Warning: this post contains mild spoilers for The Walking Dead, Season 6, Episode 9, No Way Out}

When my mom died, I thought I would break. I felt fractured, like her death fissured my soft middle into sharp pieces, which stayed held together by my skin. The brokenness rumbled, poking from the inside out. Stabbing. Slicing. That’s how grief felt: like the pain would kill me. I didn’t think the sadness would ever leave.

There’s no fast forward button on grief.

I hate that.

It’s completely inconvenient that we’re allotted mere days to mourn in this modern life before we’re expected to be back at work, back in full swing, back to life as usual. Body and soul, heart and mind – they move on when they are ready to move on and not a minute sooner.

Meanwhile, the brokenness inside keeps stabbing. Without warning – slice. Something you see or hear or smell or taste or touch — some something you were not expecting — bumps up against your life. One of those sharp edges from the broken contents of your inner self cuts through a thin place in your skin. Slice. That mask you maintain so well gets slashed, from inside, and suddenly, you’re vulnerable. Conspicuous. Anyone who’s looking can see the big gaping wound.

That’s what I saw in actress Katelyn Nacon’s character, Enid, during the mid-season-six premiere of The Walking Dead. When she read the inscription over the church’s door, “Faith without works is dead. – James 2:26,” it bumped her. Slice. Oh, Enid, babe. I see you. I see how those words, for some reason, broke open the thin skin.


How do you survive in this life when the people you can’t live without are gone?

This is the question Enid struggles with every day. When her character was first introduced, I thought she was just another moody teenager, because surely teenagers are allowed to be moody in the zombie apocalypse. Especially teenage girls, right? (I mean, for real, y’all, can you imagine your 16-year-old self on your period in Alexandria – I would’ve taken people’s heads off.) But, seeing Enid’s backstory, we see she’s not moody; she’s grieving. She’s surviving, somehow. Enid is orphaned. All alone. Even in a room full of people, she’s by herself. How will she live life without the people she’s never lived without?

Something about that phrase over the back door of the church bumped her. Slice. Glenn, masterfully portrayed by Steven Yeun, sees. He responds. “People you love,” he says, “They made you who you are. They’re still part of you. You stop being you [and] that last bit of them that’s still around inside who you are — it’s gone.”

Glenn, where were you five and a half years ago when I needed to hear that?

I struggled so much after my mother died, which may come as a surprise to you since I’m a clergy person…aren’t pastors supposed to know the secrets to life’s deepest mysteries and sail through this existence with Zen-like peace and tranquility? Well, if that’s what we’re supposed to do, I missed that lecture in seminary. Somebody send it to me.

In the years after my mom’s death, I felt like I was losing her constantly. When her yellow Tupperware bowl got put in the dishwasher, erasing her signature from the “This dish belongs to…” sticker on its bottom, I cried for days. When the lone voicemail I saved from her got accidentally deleted, then permanently deleted, I did not think I could go on. When my kid got sick, and all I wanted to do was call my mom to ask, “What should I do?” even though I am an adult, who is quite skilled in adulting, who has been adulting, proficiently, every day for YEARS, I crumbled. I needed to talk to my mom. Each time I got reminded of her and felt like I’d lost her, the wound busted open from the inside out.

Each time – slice.

But, then, that pain started to change. I’d be talking to my girls and hear her voice echo in mine, her practical brand of wisdom winging in my words. Or, David, my husband, would make me laugh so hard I’d snort. The snort-laugh: it’s so unbecoming and absolutely perfect – the way my mom laughed when something really got her. See, she shows up in my life all the time. When I’m being creative, speaking the truth, noticing the little details other people skip over, and doing other things I inherited from her, she’s there. She shows up, too, when I’m doing things she never dreamed of doing herself, but would be awfully proud of me for trying and testing, even if I don’t succeed.

When I am who I am, it’s like my mom is alive.

When I forget who I am, I start to forget who she was, too.

“People you love,” Glenn says, “They made you who you are. They’re still part of you. You stop being you [and] that last bit of them that’s still around inside who you are — it’s gone.”

So, here’s the truth, y’all: God needs you to be you in this world. No one else is going to be you. Who you were made to be by the Divine, and molded to be by the people who love you throughout your life, no one else can ever be that. You have to work at it. It’s easy to get swayed, thinking you have to be someone else, or that you should be a better, shinier, more perfect version of who you already are. It takes faith to believe in yourself, and that’s work, but when you do, you come alive, and so do the people who you’ve lost. “People you love…they made you who you are. They’re still part of you….” You stop being you and you’ll disappear right along with them.

So, Love, believe me when I say this: don’t disappear, the world needs you too much.

Blessings, y’all,

Pop Culture Preacher

A quick Introduction

Pop Culture factoids fill half my brain, Theology the other….oh, and my kid’s gymnastics schedule is in there some where.  I love Jesus, my family, my work, movies, tv, theater, and art. And I cuss a lot — try not to be offended.

I’ve been working on this blog idea for a while and have some TWD related posts ready to go, but when I woke up this morning, the need to acknowledge the life of Alan Rickman was just too strong. It couldn’t wait.  So….here we go…..

By the by, you can find me on Twitter and instagram under the name @revlkrm

If you’re ever in town and looking for a progressive, inclusive Christian church  — we’re it.  I’m the pastor of Community United Church of Christ, located in the heart of the campus of the University of Illinois. Check us out at  You can also get a sense of the denomination in which I serve, the United Church of Christ, at

Rest in Peace, Voice of God: Remembering Alan Rickman

Well, this was not the first installment I planned to post to Pop Culture Preacher. Not at all.  But that’s what happens when you wake up to sad news from across the pond.  Alan Rickman has died.  Rest in true peace, sir.

For many of you, Mr. Rickman will forever be Snape from Harry Potter, always, ALWAYS reminding us of the complicated nature of relationships and the complexity of good and evil – how there’s a vast variety of points in between.  Likewise, every December, many of you will delight in Mr. Rickman’s charm while cursing the infidelity of his character Harry from Love Actually.  I mean, really, how dare you cheat on our beloved Emma Thompson!

As for me, I’ll be keeping vigil with the movie Dogma.  Alan Rickman played Metatron, The Voice of God, in that fourth film of writer/director Kevin Smith.  That scene where Bethany runs full on into a muddy pond, flailing her arms, and shrieking, “What do you want from me?”– that’s me.  I’m the girl called by God who, quite often, wonders what the fuck my Creator wants me to do and be in this world. While in Seminary earning my Masters of Divinity degree (as if we really ever master Divinity…) and working my way toward ordination in the United Church of Christ, I watched that Kevin Smith film a lot.  A whole lot.  Sometimes weekly.  When I didn’t think I could do it and think theologically enough to make it, or when the depression I was battling threatened to pull me under, or when I just wanted to go do something else with my talents, I would pray about it, and then watch Dogma.  When I watched the planes hit the Twin Towers at the start of my second year of seminary, thinking, first, “Why? God…GOD?!? WHY!?!” and then, “Oh, shit.  Any time this kind of thing happens, I am going to be one of those people who must give voice to meaning, to Hope beyond shattered hope….I don’t know if I can do that.” Then, as the freak out ceased, I prayed about it and watched Dogma.

When I saw myself, reflected in the character of Bethany as played by Linda Fiorentino, pissed off at God for something that probably wasn’t God’s fault to begin with, and holding a grudge accordingly, the Voice of God, cleverly and gently embodied by Alan Rickman would ring in my ears. “Don’t allow eons of history and life to be blinked out of being just because you have a grudge with your Creator!”

When I recognized myself in Bethany, doubting my call and wanting, desperately, to just be a “normal” person instead of a “clergy” person, someone set apart for ministry, wanting to run my hopeless self far away from it all, I would often mumble, “I don’t want this… it’s too big…” right along with her. And Rickman’s Voice of God, like the call and response in prayer, would sound again, “This… is who you are….knowing who you are now, doesn’t mean you aren’t who you were. You are Bethany Sloan!” In other words, you’re still you, Leah…and you can still be you and be a pastor, too. “No one can take that away from you, not even God! … All this means is a redefinition of that identity- the incorporation of this new data into who you are. Be who you’ve always been. Just… be this as well…”

So, here I am – still who I am and a clergy person, too.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that these words, written by Kevin Smith, and spoken by the Alan Rickman, saved me.  That would not be an exaggeration at all.

As a pastor, each time I look into a person’s eyes and remind them that they are worth a life — they are loved and beloved, and each time I speak words of hope over and against hatred, violence, indifference, and the greed found in this world, and each time I shepherd grief-stricken people through the valley of the shadow of a death of a loved one, and each time I say to someone who’s wandered into my church’s building because of the rainbow flags we fly and tell them that God DOES NOT hate them because they’re gay – in fact God dearly loves them, each time I do anything transformative, by the grace of God as a clergy person, and I hear some reassurance from on high that I’m being who I’m called to be, supposed to be, and was made to be in this world, that reassurance sounds an awful lot like the voice of Alan Rickman. Thanks for playing Metatron, sir. I’m so very grateful that you did.

Blessings, y’all…PopCulturePreacher