One of my many ongoing projects, the Be the Change series highlights fascinating who people I meet during my travels. These are folks who are doing the hard work of changing the world for the better by living our their passions and sharing their gifts. Subjects are chosen by me with no committee or proposal process, so if you know of a person or project that you think is doing something that is making the world a more just, compassionate and peaceful place feel free to let me know.
Highlighted this week is a person I just met at a recent Red Letter Christians gathering. Margot and I had some great conversations, share some church connections and I think “clicked” in terms of approach to the world. Margot is the author of Unsqueezed: Springing Free from Skinny Jeans, Nose Jobs, Highlights and Stilettos and the more recent, Small Things with Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor.
Now on to my interview with Margot Starbuck.
Tell me a little about yourself . . . who is Margot Starbuck?
Though I’d love to say “internationally-acclaimed award-winning rap artist,” it simply isn’t the case. Yet. What I do more often is sit in a squishy chair, think thoughts and write stuff. I also wait in terminals to board airplanes, visit colleges and conferences, and speak some of the words I thought about in the squishy chair. (I considered lying, to make it sound so much better than that, but my children—ages 10, 11, 12—are now old enough to find this interview online. So there’s that.)
The stuff I care about & write about & speak about, of course, comes from my own journey from childhood in Chicagoland, college in sunny Santa Barbara, Princeton Theological Seminary, internship at Urban Promise in Camden NJ, PCUSA ordination to chaplaincy among folks with disabilities, finally landing at HOME in Durham, NC—with stops to be schooled along the way by grass roots savants in Mexico, South Africa and El Salvador.
The messages closest to my heart: When our experience lies about who we are — hissing that we deserved to be left, or weren’t worth showing up for or sticking around for or staying clean for — God speaks the true word, “I AM with you and for you.” When retailers lie about who we are — insisting that girls’ and women’s bodies are ornamental, made to be viewed, rather than instrumental — Jesus reminds us that our physical bodies are actually for loving God and loving people. When our comfort lies about who we are — when the privileged become captives in a homogenous home/work/church triangular ghetto — the Spirit nudges us out of our comfort zones to engage with a world in need. And, of course, there’s the Special Sinner Project.
Tell me a little about the Special Sinner Project and how did you get involved in it?
I’m not going to lie: It wasn’t even called the Special Sinner Project until Bruce coined that awesome phrase that I love. You can learn more HERE, but basically I’m wanting to hear the stories of folks who’ve been judged, by Christians (though maybe not all of them) to be a Special sort of Sinner. You can probably paint that picture without my help, but it would certainly include: the young adult who comes out of the closet, the church staff member accused of impropriety, the mom who supports her kids by working as an exotic dancer, the married woman who has an abortion or the single one who doesn’t. I think you get the idea.
The reason for the Special Sinner Project is my hunch that a lot of Christians want to love their neighbors who they see as “other”, but have no idea what that looks like. For many of us, our gut tells us that refusing to attend the after-party following Drag Queen Bingo, or giving the silent treatment to the teacher accused of molestation or refusing to acknowledge the existence of our adult child’s partner isn’t really “love” at all. We are dying to do it differently but we have no idea how. To move forward, we need for any who are willing to tell us what love does and does not look like.
In 10 years, what do you hope people will be saying about the Special Sinner Project?
In my imagination, here’s what I’d love to receive in my inbox in ten years…
“Dear Margot, I get it. I finally get it. I had been taught that if I was a faithful Christian I had to launch every failed relationship with the sinner I was targeting for salvation with, “I need to let you know that your behavior is sinful. But God loves you and I love you.” I couldn’t imagine any other way of relating to people whose values didn’t jibe with mine.
Honestly, since the Special Sinner Project, ‘sinner’ isn’t even a word I use anymore. Instead of seeing an “other,” more often now I see someone who’s a lot like me. When I was finally given permission to drop the “Special Sinner” business, I could finally treat people with the kind of dignity and respect I’d want shown to me. It turns out that everyone I’d been taught to objectify as a sinful other was actually a beloved child of God, created in God’s image. Who knew?! Because God wasn’t waiting for anyone to clean up their act before they could be loved unconditionally, I didn’t have to demand it either! Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last.
Respectfully, An Ex-Hater”
I have a vivid imagination.
How can people get connected to and support the Special Sinner Project?
You can find some info about how to participate at Sinners Speak. If you have 3 people who read your blog, or 12 friends on facebook, or 2 Twitter followers, you can help out by posting the opportunity!
It’s easy! Copy and paste the following: “Has the Church identified you as a Special sort of Sinner? Find out and speak your mind @ http://www.margotstarbuck.com/Sinners_Speak.html”
Pay it forward a bit . . . what are 2-3 projects, companies or people that you think are doing some good work in the world these days?
LOCAL: in Durham, North Carolina, precious teens who’ve been marginalized by poverty, broken families, structures and various disabilities are finding out—through folks who are committed to loving them—that in Jesus Christ, God is FOR THEM at Reality Ministries. When kids flood in to the Reality Center every school day at 4pm, the kingdom of God is a REALITY.
GLOBAL: When I was a little kid, I had this big idea that if every affluent household on the globe, beginning with the very richest, was partnered with and commissioned to share with every poor household on the globe, beginning with the very poorest (so that middle families sort of met in the middle) we could eliminate poverty. I was a weird little kid.
In adulthood, I have learned that the sort of resource-sharing among the body of Christ that allows people to be experience release from the sticky web of poverty, is ACTUALLY HAPPENING through the child development work of Compassion International. Hear about what I saw with my own eyes in El Salvador (and see my cutie kids), here.