Our Rachel.

When I first heard the name Rachel Held Evans, I made one major assumption. I thought she was a white woman writing for other white women. I knew she had a popular blog, and I heard she wrote a book called A Year of Biblical Womanhood. But I didn’t pick it up until a huge announcement came from Lifeway Bookstore. They weren’t going to sell her book in their stores. That was major. A prominent white woman not being able to sell her Christian book in Christian bookstores would mean a hit to her sales for sure, but it also was a significant power play. Rachel would have to decide if she would alter her manuscript to make it acceptable or not. She chose “or not”.

The prevailing story was that Lifeway wouldn’t sell her book because of her use of the word “vagina”. She later wondered if that was the whole reason… but suffice it to say, the issue was that Rachel was being too extra. At first she was willing to “clean it up” but then she heard from all of you. Bolstered by your adamant voices that she publish the book as she wrote it, she made her decision. She wrote on her website, “I’m disappointed, of course, and not just because I’ll take a hit in sales. While Lifeway certainly has every right to choose its own inventory, I think the notion that Christians should dance carefully around reality, that we should speak in euphemisms and only tell comfortable, sanitized stories, is a destructive one that has profoundly affected the evangelical culture as a whole.”

Now, if you read A Year of Biblical Womanhood you know that Rach was questioning a lot about white, evangelical culture before the Lifeway controversy. But I think Rach began to see that if even she was a white woman could be punished, pressured, pushed aside- than what did that mean for the rest of us who didnt carry her privilege? This moment was a spark in Rachel’s unwavering commitment to fight systems of exclusion.

When I picked up her book and laughed my through it, I never imagined Id soon hear from her. I had just started this blog. I began so sweet and gentle and here-allow-me-to-teach-you-all-the-things-dear-ones. But as I watched the country treat our first Black president with hatred and disdain, as I read about Trayvon and Mike Brown, as I watched a little black girl get assaulted by police at a pool party and dealt with my own rising fears following Sandra Bland’s case, my writing quickly shifted. And Rachel found me.

Back then, my blog was just a baby. I had very few followers on social media. I never really intended to become a writer. I just had no other avenues for talking about the things I was most passionate about. So my blog became my outlet. But I was mostly talking to myself. Until Rachel popped up in my email and said, “Would you be interested in being featured on my blog?” I couldn’t believe it! Overnight my follower count grew and suddenly I had this thing called an audience. I wasn’t just talking to myself anymore. I was writing and people were reading.

Then Rachel joined forces with Nadia Bolz Weber. The pair decided a new kind of conference was needed. A conference full of testimonies. A conference that asked, “in light of all the shit in the world, why the hell are you still a Christian?” Rachel and Nadia decided not to ask all of their famous friends to be speakers. Instead they found a bunch of misfits. The only thing we had in common as a group was a fearlessness of dropping f-bombs. Other than that, we were from different backgrounds, different denominations, different family structures, difference races, different, different, different. And the success of the conference was entirely dependent on the audience of Rach and Nadia because they purposefully chose to uplift new voices.

Those who attended the first Why Christian conference know what a powerful community those two women created for everyone. What went unseen was the mentorship Rachel and Nadia provided behind the scenes. They brought us in a day early. Gathered us into one room. Sat us down in a circle. And said, “What do you want to know?” For a couple hours they answered every question we had about writing, publishing, speaking, money, travel… anything we wanted to know. They pulled back the veil on how one becomes a “writer and speaker” as a career. Kind. Generous. Funny. Honest.

It was my first time meeting Rachel in person. And I was sick as sick can be. Rachel took care of me. She gave me her stash of medicine. She had volunteers go get me more medicine. She watched over me as I slept on the couch in the greenroom between sessions. And when it was my turn to hit the stage, she was right there, steps away, making sure I wouldn’t fall over.

That group of women she gathered together have become such faithful friends. We call ourselves The Hedge because we are still a collection of misfits who like the f-bomb.

After Why Christian, Rachel didnt disappear. She offered me a personal introduction to her speaking agent, who decided to take me on. When publishing houses started expressing interest because of the blog, Rachel made a personal introduction to her literary agent, who decided to take me on. At every step in my career, she has been there. Cheering and supporting and making shit happen.

I have tried to read through all the emails she sent. The advice for marketing my book when you have just given birth to a human. Advice for choosing an accountant. Advice for traveling with kids. Advice for choosing an agent, a publishing house, an editor. Advice for advances and royalties. Advice for calming my anxieties. Celebrations over the little things. Encouragement. Reminders- not only that she believe in my voice- but why she believed in my voice. She was always specific about what made each voice she valued so special.

I once emailed her to ask what I should do about all the requests I was receiving for “a quick coffee date”. She gave me some great advice about boundaries. But then she wrote, “Of course there are exceptions. I make a special effort to respond to anyone who is coming out for the first time, because its such a big deal and I want that first time to be a good experience. And I usually take time for parents of LGBT kids. They are special to me. So know who is special to you, even as you think about boundaries.”

That’s who my friend was.

She was a champion of inclusion- not just in theory… not in some vague sense that writers can often get away with. She was a true champion- in real life- with her platform, her money, her time, her contacts, her access.

Just before my book released, I was shooting my shot everywhere i could to get it into the hands of people I admire. I reached out to Rachel. “Want to do something really, really silly with me?” I asked. “Want to DM Ava DuVernay about my book?” Rachel took exactly zero seconds to say, “Yes, I want to shoot that shot with you.” We both knew it was the longest of long shots. She didnt care. She believed impossible things were possible. And she never underestimated the mischievous nature of the Holy Spirit ( a phrase she used a lot).

Generous is the word I keep coming back to. And she was a lot of other things, y’all. Funny. Kind. Grounded. Analytical. I mean what a big, beautiful mind. But she was also generous… to me.

Just today, I received my very first royalties check. And all I want to do is text my friend who found my blog, who encouraged my writing, who introduced me to a literary agent, who promoted the book endlessly, who believed I could be a writer before I believed it. Im not entirely sure what to do with myself now.

So I think what I’ll do is what she did. Here is an author you can support today:

Rozella White is a wonderful human who just released her first book Love Big. Her book explores many kinds of relationships in which we can choose to Love Big, but since I know you all love racial justice as much as I do, here is just a sliver of an excerpt:

All too often in conversations about racial justice, people jump immediately to talk of reconciliation. No one wants to directly address the harm that has been done. But true reconciliation requires facing hard truths head-on and giving back what was taken from Black and Indigenous people, honoring the labor that built this country and created generational wealth for white Americans. Any other starting point is bullshit…

Buy this book.

Remember Rachel well.

Because Rachel loved BIG.

(*as always, sorry about typos. You know what i meant.)

Austin Brown
What If

Yall. I havent written a blog post in a really long time. Are you all still reading these things called blog posts? I hope so because I want to share a thought thats forming in my heart. 

The world sucks. (You've probably noticed this.) And it feels like every day is an emotional battle. How much do you invest in the daily news? How much do we need to escape for our own sanity? How much do I give? How often do I volunteer? Should I go to the border, to the airports, to DC, to the march shutting down the highway? How do I balance everything else that life requires- my friends, my work, my family, my hobbies. How do I fight despair, apathy, bitterness? So many questions. Sigh. 

But here's the thing Ive been wondering. What if we were made for this? I dont mean that we are made to suffer, or that "God intended this" stuff. I mean. What if instead of longing for ease, we were made for more- made to advocate, made to dig in, made to speak out, made to dive into nuance, made for complexity, made for this moment. We are not the first generation to face hard things. Slavery. Genocide. Internment. Mass Incarceration. Segregation. Exclusion. Discrimination of all kinds. But throughout history people decided to rise up. Sometimes they reaped the fruit of their efforts; sometimes they didnt. What if we believed the fight for justice was worth it, regardless of whether or not we get to enjoy the benefits? 

We still have lots of hard questions to ask. When to rise up and when to take a nap, for example. But what if we believed in the core of our being that we are strong, that we are creative, that we here to participate in making a difference?

What if we believed so deeply in our own capacity to rise to this occasion that getting to work wasnt a tiring chore, but a life-giving opportunity to invest in something larger than ourselves?

What if   

Austin Brown
We Have to Talk

I know you are already aware of the opioid crisis sweeping the nation. We have all heard about this crisis being met with compassion, imagination, and a sole desire to save lives. It is the right response, but it has been COMPLETELY different from the response to a drug crisis that was largely black- the crack epidemic.

America responded to the crack epidemic by declaring a “War on Drugs,” so Americans understood that addicts were dangerous enemies we should fear, vilify, and jail. Likewise, the vast majority of the funding to address the War on Drugs went toward building prisons, hiring law enforcement, and incarcerating addicts.  Crack addicts (predominately black) faced mandatory minimum prison sentences that were 100 times longer than the sentences of (predominately white) cocaine addicts. Public opinion followed suit: Much of America shamed and dehumanized the victims of the crack epidemic -- dismissing them as crackheads. 

But now that the addiction epidemic has a white, suburban and rural American face, we aren’t using war language. We are responding by declaring an “Opioid Crisis.” See how even the language is different? One was an epidemic inspiring a "war", the other a crisis. When we declare a war, we have enemies to fear. When we declare a crisis, we have victims to help. 

But there is more information that we are not being given, yall. " [We’ve got a] 267 percent increase in heroin overdoses in whites, but what we aren’t talking about is we’ve got over a 200 percent increase in overdoses in blacks. So this epidemic is really affecting everyone and the solutions have to affect everyone also.” Yall. Please read that sentence again. I have been duped and I am pissed. In all the talk about the opioid crisis, I have only heard of white families. I keep thinking to myself about the injustice of the response to this crisis vs the crack crisis, but here is what I know now... We are in danger of perpetuating racial injustice RIGHT NOW! 

The US Surgeon helps us understand the inequity this way, "He gave the example of diversion programs, such as drug treatment courts, that give some defendants the choice of jail or treatment. He said too often, these programs make decisions about who gets in based on someone’s chance of succeeding at recovery.

For example, those with family support systems and resources such as housing are sometimes favored for treatment.

'The affluent and the non-minorities are going to be the ones that have the best chance of being successful and the minorities and the less affluent are not,' he said.

Adams challenged the audience to support programs that use their resources equitably to give everyone suffering from addiction a chance at recovery.

Though the realization that we are perpetuating inequality right now makes me angry, having this information gives us the opportunity to turn the tide, to get it right this time! 

Today, we are partnering with Together Rising to participate in a Love Flashmob to give hope to those who are struggling with addiction. We are going to give to a white community who is fighting the opioid epidemic, but we are also going to give to a black community who has long been on the frontlines of responding with love and hope to addicts when society was declaring war. 

Meet Hope on Harvest Hill and Martha's Place: 

Hope on Harvest Hill is located in Rochester, NH. Here is how it got started: Kerry’s son had just suffered an overdose when, in 2015, a young pregnant woman who was homeless and addicted to opioids came into the prenatal center for help. With such a severe lack of resources in the community, Kerry had nowhere to send her. Kerry’s helplessness became too heavy to bear on her own- so she reached out to her community to ask for help. 

Kerry got on Facebook and wrote something like: I’m brokenhearted. Anyone else? She waited. Then her friend Colene, a local doctor, responded with: Me too. I’ve been desperate to do something for two years. 

Then Colene did something extraordinary! She said: I have a home we can use. I’ll move my family into something smaller. And she did. She moved her family of four, plus two pets, out of her own home.  She made room. 

Kerry gathered the other brokenhearted troops in Rochester and together they renovated the home and turned it into Hope on Haven Hill – a safe, beautiful, nurturing, highly structured home where pregnant and addicted women recover with their children and begin again.  Where addicted women can get well without fear of their kids being taken away.   


But then we learned this.  In the entire state of New Hampshire, there are zero recovery-centered transitional houses where a woman can live with her baby.  None. That means women who have done the grueling work of becoming sober remain in danger without safe housing to continue their journey of recovery. So, we are going to buy these women a house! This house: 


We are buying this house for Kerry and for all the women who right now are sick, pregnant, and alone. We will make it so Kerry can open that front door and say: WE HAVE ROOM FOR YOU AND YOUR PRECIOUS BABY. YOU ARE NOT ALONE ANYMORE. COME IN. THERE IS ROOM. This house will become the FIRST transitional home of its kind in New Hampshire! 

But thats not all we are going to do. Because we are people who do our best to model the hope we want to see unleashed in the world, we are also going to help some women in Baltimore- the women of Martha's Place. 

Meet Ms. Amelia. When Ms. Amelia and her husband started connecting with neighbors two decades ago, the people said they desperately needed a place where addicted women could come to get clean. Babies needed their moms healthy again. Ms. Amelia, who lost her own sister to addiction, gathered her broken heart, rallied volunteers who were also brokenhearted, and together they purchased and renovated an abandoned building haunted by drug dealers, and opened Martha’s Place in 2000.  

Martha’s Place occupies five converted row houses as a long-term home for women recovering from addiction and starting independent lives.  Also on that corner are its sister projects: an arts program for youth and an urban farm offering employment opportunities to formerly incarcerated “returning citizens” who come back home to the community. The corner on which Martha’s Place stands was formerly a festering drug market and, because of the rehabilitation of the women and the redemption of that space, locals now refer to that corner as “Resurrection Intersection” – an oasis of hope in one of the most troubled parts of Baltimore. Ms. Amelia and her husband live on the same corner in one of the row houses with the women they have served for more than 17 years. 


Ms. Amelia and the people of Martha’s Place loved these women and this neighborhood through wartime – before the compassion, outreach and funds that came in with the wave of an official “crisis.”  And they are still struggling to afford to offer these vital resources. 

So today, not only are we asking for help to fund a transitional house for Hope on Haven Hill, and we are going to invest in the work of Martha's Place. We would like to fund an addictions counselor to meet regularly with the recovering women; a program director to help the women with family reintegration, job skills and placement; investment in alumni coordination so that women further along in recovery can serve as mentors, and alumni can rely on their sisters for continuous support and accountability; and critically necessary repairs to the homes so they can continue their warriors’ journey with dignity.  

We can do this. We can join our broken, tireless hearts with these warriors and heal this part of the world, together. We can practice equity. We possess enough compassion, enough love to honor the human dignity of multiple communities ravaged by addiction. 

Please Give. Every penny we receive from your tax-deductible donations will go directly to Hope on Haven Hill and Martha’s Place- and any extra we receive will fund homes like these throughout America. As always, we will share every detail about how the money is used in upcoming months.

You can make your tax-deductible donation by clicking here or on the GIVE NOW button below. Please give what you can—$5, $10, $15, or $25 –today, we’re bringing hope to these women and babies through all of our small gifts given with great love.  Remember that every donation matters.  

This is our doorstep and we are the innkeepers.  Today we say to homeless mothers and their babies: Come, we have made room for you.  Be safe and get well.  We love you, and the world needs you. 

*If you would like more information about this effort please click here or if you have questions, inquire here

Austin Brown
Our Work Just Got Harder

Im struggling to find words tonight, friends. Having just watched this Trmp press conference, I am sick and heartbroken and angry and frustrated and quite frankly scared for whats to come. I have been purposeful about not speaking much on Trmp since the election. During the campaign I tried to make clear his hateful rhetoric, but since America made its choice, I have tried to stick to naming and unpacking the ideas behind his horrendous rhetoric. But I cant ignore what happened tonight.

Beloved, I need you to understand that our work just got harder. I need you to know that our work just became more dangerous. I need you to know that our work just became more risky. Because this is the first time in decades that white supremacists have found a *friend* in the white house. This is not a small matter. This is permission-giving. We are watching the highest form of our government being celebrated for creating a moral vacuum in which you can stand on anyone's side or no one's side and be right. The "both sides" declaration is an illusion, beloved.

His words tonight are reckless, and no doubt have emboldened white supremacists who now get to call themselves good, their motives good, and their mission good. And at the same time, has placed those who would stand against the hateful ideology of white supremacists on the same moral ground by placing everyone's actions under an equal banner called violence.

I shudder to think what this group of white supremacists will do next. Because of white supremacy, we have already had 9 black people killed in a church.  Because of white supremacy, we have already had a young, white woman run over by a car. What will be next? Who will be emboldened next? How many lives will they take as they seek to make reality the dominance of whiteness and the subjugation of people of color and marginalized bodies? 

My friends. You have to let go of this idea that you can sit in the middle, not choose sides, condemn everyone equally and be on the side of Jesus. You can be nuanced in your thinking, but you must choose to stand either with an ideology of peace and love or an ideology of violence and hate. Choose ye this day.

As I sit here, I am imagining the news story that may have been written after Jesus went into the temple and led a one man protest. I wonder if the newspaper called him violent for turning over all the furniture? I wonder of local reporters said that everything was fine until he caused all the chaos. I wonder if government leaders condemned his actions calling it a riot. I wonder if no one reported about the people who came to him afterwords- the poor, the children, the sick... I wonder if Jesus's declaration that the temple would be a house of prayer for all nations rubbed some folks the wrong way. i wonder if it felt like losing power. I wonder if felt like an affront, a break with how things had always been. I wonder if anyone pointed out that the moneychangers at least had permits, but Jesus didnt. And tonight, I wonder how many of you would have condemned Christ, proclaiming that there were problems on both sides. Sure the money-changers shouldn't have been treating people unjustly, but then again Jesus could have found a better way, a quieter way, a less violent way, a kind way, a patient way, a more polite way, a more reasonable way, a more acceptable way, a less chaotic way to handle the situation.

Beloved. Jesus stood on the side of the marginalized over and over and over and over again.

MLK wrote in The Letter from Birmingham Jail that the folks he was disappointed by weren't the hate filled people who spat on him and jailed him, weren't the people who hurled slurs at him and beat him, weren't the people who sent hate mail and bombed his home. The people in whom he was disappointed were the white moderate. Here is just a portion of his quote:

"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season."

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

Take. A. Stand.

Its time, Beloved. Its time to commit yourselves to learning. Its time to commit yourselves to speaking. Its time to commit yourselves to writing. Its time to commit yourselves to organizing. Its time to commit yourselves to preaching. Its time to commit yourselves to teaching. Its time to commit to understanding American history. Its time to commit yourselves to the work of racial justice. Its time to commit yourselves to love- whatever that looks like at the intersection of your giftedness and influence.

But when I say love, Im not talking meaningless, polite niceties. You can keep that. Im talking about a love that takes risks. A love that requires sacrifice. A love that protests hate.

Its time to unequivocally protest the hate embedded in white supremacy- not just in the events of Charlottesville but around the dinner table, in the pews, in the classroom, in the neighborhood, in the board meetings, in the curriculum, in the books, movies, and media in your house, and most of all from within your own heart, mind and spirit. 

Its time. Because our work just got harder. 

Austin Brown