Pastor Stephanie Williams O’Brien joins Be the Bridge founder Latasha Morrison on the podcast for a conversation surrounding the injustices the community of Minneapolis has endured, the lifelong commitment to racial justice, submitting to the leadership of people of color, and her new book Make a Move, all about the practical advice she gives for making decisions and acting in faith. And she speaks words of encouragement for both leaders of color and white leaders. Pastor Stephanie will help you get unstuck in your personal life and your spiritual life, your life in community and your life of bridge-building.
“It’s an intentional choice to seek out and welcome the authority of leaders in your life.” –Stephanie Williams O’Brien
“This is not about a moment, but it’s about a lifestyle. This is not about a short term commitment. This is about conviction.” –Latasha Morrison
“Maybe instead of praying that our church becomes more diverse, let’s pray that we’re people that would actually be safe for folks to come in.” –Stephanie Williams O’Brien
“So read the books, watch the things, but experiment in behaviors that change and shape us, because I think we can behave our way into new thinking. And we can also think our way into new behaviors.” –Stephanie Williams O’Brien
“How are we not willing to hold space for a discussion before we have already judged it?” –Stephanie Williams O’Brien
Host & Executive Producer – Latasha Morrison
Senior Producer – Lauren C. Brown
Producer, Editor & Music By – Travon Potts
Transcriber – Sarah Connatser
Pastor Stephanie Williams O’Brien is the Lead Pastor at Mill City Church in Northeast Minneapolis. She is also a professor of ministry at Bethel University and Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Stephanie has opportunities to coach leaders around the world through speaking, developing resources and her podcast Lead Stories with her friend Jo Saxton. She is a sought after leadership coach, helping women and men to be intentional with their influence in all aspects of their lives. Pastor Steph is passionate about communities and individuals participating in the mission of God to the world. Her first book was released in the fall of 2019 – Stay Curious: How Questions and Doubts Can Save Your Faith. Her latest book is Make A Move: How to Stop Wavering And Make Decisions in a Disorienting World. Connect with Pastor Steph at: www.pastorsteph.com.
[Intro] How are you guys doing today? This is exciting!
Each week, Be the Bridge podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture with the goal of bringing understanding.
Latasha Morrison 0:16
[Intro] …but I’m going to do it in the spirit of love.
We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society but grounded in truth. If you have not hit the subscribe button, please do so now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end.
Latasha Morrison 0:53
Pastor Stephanie Williams O’Brien is the lead pastor at Mill City Church in Northeast Minneapolis. She is also a professor of ministry at Bethel University and Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Stephanie has opportunities to coach leaders around the world through developing resources and through speaking in her podcast Lead Stories that she does with her friend Jo Saxton. She is a sought after leadership coach helping women and men to be intentional with their influence in all aspects of their life. Pastor Stephanie is passionate about her communities and individuals participating in the mission of God to the world. Her first book was released in the fall of 2019 called Stay Curious: How Questions and Doubts Can Save Your Faith. Her latest book is Make a Move: How to Stop Wavering and Make Decisions in a Disorienting World.
[In conversation] Be the Bridge family, I am here with Pastor Stephanie O’Brien. She is the lead pastor at Mill City Church. And I am so excited to have you here today!
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 2:04
I’m so excited to be here!
Latasha Morrison 2:07
We’ve known each other for a while. I’ve been on your podcast a couple times and got a chance to have lunch or dinner with you when I was on my first trip to Minnesota.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 2:19
Yeah, and it was negative degrees here when you came. Do remember that?
Latasha Morrison 2:22
Yeah, and I hear now it’s like plus degrees. (laugher)
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 2:27
It’s hot. It’s hot. It’s plus degrees.
Latasha Morrison 2:30
Tell them how hot it is in Minnesota.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 2:32
Right now as we speak it is 95 degrees and the humidity says that it’s feels like 103. People just found out, some people just found out it gets that hot in Minnesota right now. It’s unusual. It’s not usually this hot, especially not for so long and not in June so. But nothing normal has been happening in Minnesota these last couple of years.
Latasha Morrison 2:50
Yes. Nothing normal. Let’s say across the world nothing normal. 2021 has not been normal. Nothing. Nothing is normal.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 3:00
Maybe it helped us give up the idea that there is a normal.
Latasha Morrison 3:02
Yes! When I was there there were like frozen lakes and I was freaked out about seeing a frozen lake. I mean.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 3:10
Did you walk on one?
Latasha Morrison 3:11
No, I was afraid. I was too afraid.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 3:13
I’m gonna get you out there.
Latasha Morrison 3:14
I went to the edge. And then it was like, you know, we’re still like snowy. And so my foot started kind of slipping in the snow. And I was just afraid that it was like, oh, no, I don’t know if ice can hold me. Yup. (laugher)
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 3:29
People people drive their cars on it and stuff.
Latasha Morrison 3:32
I know, I saw that. And I was just…it’s something in my head. I’ll have to come back and try. And because I was with someone, but they weren’t from Minnesota. And the other person that was with us that was from Minnesota was driving the car and finding a place to park. And just we ran out there really quick. And so I’ll have to try it. But I’m telling you. But we got to make sure y’all have a really good cold winter first. (laughter)
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 4:05
It always freezes. Well I can’t wait to be there. I’m going to document it on Instagram when you come.
Latasha Morrison 4:09
Oh yeah, you may have to because I’m going to be screaming. (laugher) Well listen. You have been doing a lot of incredible work. You wrote a book, you pastor in a church, you’re leading groups of women. Tell us a little bit about who Pastor Stephanie is and what do you want people to know about you?
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 4:33
Yeah, well, you know, first and foremost I’m someone that just is trying to be on the heels of Jesus. That’s what I’m about. That’s who I am. You know, daughter of the King. Obviously that’s that’s what I’m all about. Kingdom stuff. And I love thinking of my job description as having like a Kingdom job description. I’ve got some, you know, there’s some human beings that give me some job descriptions of the places that I serve. But at the end of the day, like what is my Kingdom of God job description? And I don’t get paid for all stuff. Some of its in a good auntie. But yeah, I am a wife to JD. We got married in our 30s. So we got some stories about trying to try to merge two lives in adulthood. But it’s going good. We’ve got two really energetic Springer Spaniels. I know you’re a dog person, too. They are off the wall. And I think, you know, that’s probably all the children we need. But we love kids. We don’t plan on having our own kids. But we get to spend a lot of times with lots of different kids. And besides my niece and nephew, I mean, my church, Mill City church, it’s in urban Minneapolis, we’ve got so many kids, and they’re so cute. I mean, I can have whatever one I want to hold, people are ready to give them to me. They say, “You have this kid, you hold this kid. You can take this kid all day long.” I love kids. My church, Mill City, I helped plant it. I’m a church planter, started in 2008. And we worship in a public school. And we’ve been there since then. Had a brief stint where we’ve been out of there for the pandemic, because the schools all shut down. But we’re going to be going back in there in the fall, which we’re excited about. And not a very big church.
Latasha Morrison 6:08
I saw your video! About you going back.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 6:10
Did you? Yeah! And all these people, you know, we’ve got a few 100 people, man, they’re just so excited to go back into a building that’s not even ours. It just shows like their heart. I mean, it just shows their heart.
Latasha Morrison 6:20
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 6:21
And the school is a school that experiences a lot of challenges, the public schools in the Twin Cities do.
Latasha Morrison 6:26
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 6:27
Actually here in Minnesota and in the Twin Cities, which when I say Twin Cities I mean Minneapolis and St. Paul, we have one of the largest education gaps racially in the country. And so there’s a lot of struggles. And so for us, we’ve had a lot of things that our church is a part of, but being a part of the public school system and how we can be Jesus to people there has been key. We helped found a nonprofit called Every Meal that jumped out of our church and started with us trying to figure out how to make sure that the kids had food over the weekend. And we were able to do that for our whole school. And then my younger brother actually said, “Wait, I bet a bunch of churches could do this in the schools they’re partnering with.” And long story short, he launched it out as a nonprofit. And 270 schools are sponsored by Every Meal now. Isn’t that nuts?
Latasha Morrison 7:15
Oh my goodness!
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 7:16
I know, it’s crazy.
Latasha Morrison 7:17
All of this started with a congregation size of 100.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 7:21
Yeah! We’re like 100 people.
Latasha Morrison 7:22
I’m just telling you. I mean small groups of people can do mighty things. I love it! I love it.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 7:28
It’s so true. So Mill City’s, now that were 13 years old, maybe like 400 or 500 people, but we were just a little church. And we started that and yeah, God can do amazing things. So we’ve been doing some awesome stuff here. I also get the chance to teach at Bethel Seminary, which is here in St. Paul, Minnesota. Minneapolis and St. Paul are real close to each other. And that’s been a real gift for me to be able to be a part of empowering and equipping the pastors of the next generation. I primarily teach preaching there actually and some of the leadership courses, and do a podcast with your friend and mine, Jo Saxton, the Lead Stories Podcast. So that’s been a blast. We’ve been doing that for five and a half years.
How do you guys get any work done together? You and Jo together?
Jo and I? Here’s the key. Here’s the key. All we do is push record while we’re having conversations we would already have.
Latasha Morrison 8:22
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 8:25
That’s it. People say, “How do you prepare? What’s your plan?” I’m like, “Oh, we just press record and start talking about the topic and see what happens.”
Latasha Morrison 8:33
See where it goes. How long have y’all known each other?
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 8:36
We’ve known each other for maybe nine years now. Maybe almost 10? It’s crazy. And when we first met, she didn’t live in Minnesota. And we were connected over online, like, you and I are talking now. And we were doing Zoom before it was a cool thing that everybody did. And then she moved to Minnesota for a job that she had for a little while, doesn’t do that anymore. And then we got to be, you know, geographically close and, and then became really close friends. Jo is one of my best friends and confidants and I’ve learned more from her that I could possibly express.
Latasha Morrison 9:08
Oh, I love it. I love it. And I know that Minnesota has had a tough few years. And specifically, you know, the African American, the Black community there. And just even recently, just all the things. And so one of the things that a lot of people know about Philando. I got a chance when I was there to visit his memorial area. And then George Floyd. And then, recently Daunte. You know, and so it’s just so many hashtags. And how are you dealing with this as a church and maybe personally? What are some things that have been going through your mind? How have you been engaged with it and how maybe has your church or churches in the community been engaged?
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 10:03
Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, on one hand, it’s just so devastating and heartbreaking that this is what’s happening here in our city. And it’s not new. It’s not new that there’s been police brutality, we just have it on tape more often now, have it recorded. But at the same time, it’s really heartening to see how a lot of the followers of Jesus have responded.
Latasha Morrison 10:24
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 10:24
Being people of help and hope and prophetic voices and honest. And it’s been really incredible. So Daunte Wright was murdered just blocks from the elementary school I went to, and George Floyd’s murder was just a couple miles from my house. I live in Minneapolis in the city. And yeah, when things are that close to home, it changes you. It changes you, you know, as a person. And the hashtags have been, I mean, with Philando and Jamar Clark, they’ve all made an impact. And when we set out to start our church, we had a few commitments from the beginning. And one of them was racial reconciliation, as a group of predominantly white people starting a church in a city. But for us that looks like listening and learning. That started with us saying, how do we come to physically go to Black churches, to African churches, to Latino churches, and listen and learn, and come with open hands and say, “How can we serve? And how can we be partners?” And so having those partnerships for the last 13 year sure does change the dynamic, right? Because then it’s not, “It’s happening to those people.” It’s happening to to us, our people, us. We might be different churches that worship in different locations, and Minnesota’s churches are really segregated since lots of different places, the geography is segregated. But my church has learned so much. And I feel like the word submit’s going out of style, but submitting ourselves to the leadership of the leaders of color in the Twin Cities. That to me is the first step.
Latasha Morrison 12:08
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 12:08
Because if that willingness to not say, that if the willingness to lay down the power and authority that I have, which I do – if you got the title pastor, you have it. If you are a white woman like I am, you have it, if you’re in the middle class, I mean, I could go on and on – so laying that down, I think of it as laying it down at the foot of the cross.
Latasha Morrison 12:29
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 12:30
And saying, okay, now that I’ve laid it down, do I have hands ready to receive what it is that I can learn what God has for me in these relationships? And then where do we go from there? And so, to be honest, these pastors have have changed who I am, and their congregations. But really seeing that the these folks, you know, I think of Pastor Darrell Gillespie, he’s over here in North Minneapolis. I think of that man as, like one of my pastors. When he’s teaching, and he’s speaking out, when he’s talking, I think he’s somebody that pastors me. My, I always call him my cousin, Edwin Williams, we’re cousins because my maiden name is Williams.
Latasha Morrison 13:13
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 13:14
And we could not look more different. (laugher)
Latasha Morrison 13:16
I know, Edwin, I’ve heard of him. Yeah.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 13:18
And he’s so good. And these folks have just changed who I am. Pastor Nicole Bullock. I could list a million names, because it’s an intentional choice to seek out and welcome the authority of leaders in your life. And so it would be, for me to say, “Here’s some stuff my church did.” I mean, sure, but the beginning of it is, myself and the other leaders of my church and my church itself have submitted ourselves to the voices of leaders of color in the Twin Cities and beyond. And that looks like welcoming in folks to preach, that looks like folks of color in my congregation preaching and teaching, leading, being upfront having roles of authority, that looks like my elder board being diverse in every type of diversity, making sure that there’s age representation and gender representation and ethnic background representation. And for us, when all of this has happened, it was really critical to me that when, for instance, when George Floyd was murdered, which of course shook the entire world, differently than maybe Philando that didn’t maybe go global. We didn’t say anything we had never said before. And that was really critical. Because if it was the moment we decided to begin the conversation, let’s just say it would have gone very differently in my church.
Latasha Morrison 13:19
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 13:20
And so I wouldn’t want to say anything like, “All you have to do is say this and this and this or do this and this and this.” Because that’s not going to work. It has to be a part of your heartbeat. When there isn’t a main hashtag filling the screen, it has to be a part of what you’re about. And so for my congregation, it has just always been a part of it. And it doesn’t mean sometimes there’s still people who, like you always say, it’s not for everybody. Some people, they’re not going to be a part of it. So we’ve got folks that sometimes head out because they feel like it’s too hard. But we’ve been talking for years that racial justice is a lifelong commitment and calling that we have together. And as white people have specific role in. So to speak up and to talk about God’s heart in the midst of the tragedies that happened in the last year, it didn’t require us to say anything we hadn’t said. And I think that was critical in this time.
Latasha Morrison 15:26
You were already doing the work. I love that. And that’s exactly why I wanted you on the podcast to really talk. Because, you know, this is not about a moment, but it’s about a lifestyle. This is not about a short term commitment. This is about conviction. And what I’ve seen, what has led you is a conviction, this is the foundation, this is a value for your church. And one of the things I love what you were saying when you were talking about submitting to pastors of color, but you were saying going and visiting and going into those spaces. And I think that’s the new thing. I was just talking to someone and we were just talking about, what is it going to take? Because I think so many times, white pastors can focus on: How do I make my church more diverse? Or how do I get people of color to come to my church? And I’m like, well, why don’t you just go and visit their churches? Why don’t you establish partnerships? And I love that because sometimes those environments are not conducive, you know, especially if you haven’t done any work. But I think the partnerships. I mean, locking arms and showing the community one global church that has many different expressions is really also a part of the answer. And so I love what you’re doing in that, you know. I think it’s a different way for people to look at things and I love your leadership and how you’re leading. And we’re just in some crazy times, where it is disorienting. And I wanted to have you on too, because I think what you’re doing and who you are is very hopeful. It’s is very hopeful to BIPOC people to hear this because right now we’re in this crazy season where it was kind of like this awakening. And you know after awakening there’s this pushback, there’s this discord, there’s rejection. It’s historical. We know that. But it’s not everyone and sometimes the loudest voices are sometimes the wrong voices, you know.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 17:42
Well that’s it. Right.
Latasha Morrison 17:43
And so I just wanted also our community to hear that there are churches, you know, we hear about see things what’s happening in Minnesota and with all the different hashtags. But to hear about how the community, the churches are coming together and locking arms. It may not be everyone, but how, at least Mill City Church is and some other ones are doing it.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 18:12
And some other predominantly white churches too that have said, “Hey, maybe instead of praying that our church becomes more diverse, let’s pray that we’re people that would actually be safe for folks to come in.” Let’s start doing that. And we took some of the the work that Be the Bridge has done on whiteness, and just started hosting white whiteness classes, introduction to whiteness. And we created some spaces for the BIPOC folks too, mostly support of course led by leaders of color. But as a white pastor, I just said, “Who wants to learn about this? I’m trying, and I’m with you. Let’s join in.” And in our little church, we had over 80 people sign up for this class just in a few months. And we went through some of the resources that you all have on and made sure everybody bought that PDF, though. (laugher) Everybody get your own copy.
Latasha Morrison 19:01
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 19:02
But watching people have, I mean you know, we were on Zoom because it was during this last year. But you could see in people’s faces having this realization, “Oh, so when we talk about white supremacy, we’re not talking just about white supremacists. Oh.” And working through some of the things and helping say okay, it’s okay if there’s maybe some feelings of ownership and guilt but not shame. How do we move out of that? How do we address our fragility? How do we, and me saying, I’m doing it with you, I’m with you in this. I’m not telling you how to do something that I figured out. And then saying to everyone, “I know this feels uncomfortable. But this is a choice that we can make to stay in this tension. And it matters to people. Because if we can not center the whiteness, but confront it, then we can actually be people who create a space where we could have these dialogues among difference.”
Latasha Morrison 19:53
Yeah, I love that. And I love how you’re leading with. You’re leading with. It’s like your saying, “Hey, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have all the resources. But I can point us to some resources.” I love that. I love that. I mean, what would you say to some other pastors now that have, and I know this is work that you’ve done for a while so you’ve been grooming your community like this, how have you groomed your community? Because I know you’ve had some challenges. But what would you say to encourage other pastors who are getting pushback? Where they can’t even use the word white supremacy or just even to say white response or fragility is like a no no right now. It’s like, “You’re trying to make me feel, you’re trying to shame me, you’re trying to bash me!” What would you say to some of those pastors now?
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 20:48
Yeah, that’s a good question. And I’ve had those conversations with other white folks who are struggling, you know. And I think on my best days the Holy Spirit gives me compassion for how someone got to where they’re at and hope for where they need to go. But for a pastor who’s feeling that in their congregation, I often think of the tipping point principle – the idea that if 20% of people in a community begin to get a vision of something, there’s a tipping point and it spreads. And so I would encourage people to take those conversations out of the pulpit and into into the spaces that feel like their level ground. I mean, speaking of power, having a pulpit, that’s not a dialogue, that’s a monologue. And whatever we’re preaching about, if we know our community has diversity amongst that area as far as how they’re receiving it, which is true of anything, I think there’s a sense of how can we have some of these conversations in spaces that are going to help folks be able to ask questions, be able to push back in a healthy way, be able to say, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” One of the things that I’ve done and I’ll be honest, my community we can talk about those things on a Sunday, but many, many white churches you can’t, of course. One of the things I’ve done in many spaces I’m in is put on, even online, I’ve said, “Hey, look, I actually don’t debate.” I don’t do debates, because I’m not into that. I don’t think they really produce anything. “But if you want to dialogue.” I remember when Ahmaud Arbery was killed, I said, “If anyone is confused about why this is not just another person of color that’s been killed, but it’s systemic. Let me know, slid into my DMS and ask me questions.” Do you know how many people had never talked and never read anything about some of these laws that are creating situations where it would be questionable whether or not it was legal to shoot someone while running? And we can talk for a long time about why people do or don’t know things. But when I’ve made myself available to a dialog like that, I’ve had some fascinating conversations. And I’ve learned how to understand where people are coming from. And that’s helped me in conversations, because if I know kind of where they’re coming from, I can dialogue with them better. And if someone starts to debate, I say, “Oh, nope, sorry, I don’t, I don’t actually do that.” But when I’ve said, “I’m actually here for a dialogue.” And that’s actually not gonna happen on my Facebook wall, you know, I’m gonna block that. But here’s where here’s where there’s some space, where no one’s gonna judge you for the ignorance and whatever you’re feeling. People did that for me. They helped me learn stuff. They’re still doing that for me. How can I create a space where you can, like you said, learn alongside, learn with? And if pastors can do that with just a few people and have one on ones or smaller groups of conversation. I really think that tipping point can happen for people. And then at some point I think we just have to be willing to say: Is there a point in which there’s too much at stake to not say what needs to be said? And there’s too much at stake to not even at least try to move towards these conversations. And I know that means it costs people’s jobs. And I know that means it costs money in the offering plate. But, you know, look I’m like a little Bible Belt girl. My family’s actually from Louisiana. So I still have that thought in my head. When I see Jesus at the end of my life what am I gonna say? (laugher) I’m not trying to like, you know, not out of shame. But like, when I see Jesus face to face, I mean, he’s here, he’s with us. What am I gonna say I did, I wasn’t willing to talk about or wasn’t willing to say or who I wasn’t willing to be an ally to, what do I want? And not what other people think, not what what my congregation thinks, or my conservative family or my liberal family thinks. But the King of Kings is the only one I answer to at the end of the day. What did I do or say or not do or not say? That’s the actual question I think pastors, all of us, need to boil it down to. And if it means we end up looking for new jobs, it might mean that I don’t know. So I just want to encourage somebody that we’ve got to let the Holy Spirit lead us through some of these things. Because if we get shut down and say, hey, we’re not going to touch it; we’re not going to broach it; we’re not going to go there. Gosh, man. I just think that there’s something we could, we could miss out on the power of the Holy Spirit moving into these spaces that are bringing freedom for people.
Latasha Morrison 25:06
Yeah, I love that. I think that’s great. And I think that will be helpful to some of the people that are listening that they can share this message with maybe some of their pastors or pastors that are listening. But I’m glad that you have invited people into your DMs and into your private space, so they can stay out of mine. (laugher) But you know, but you know what, that’s what part of being an ally and accomplice is in this is that, don’t expect people of color to do that, because it is draining. That’s not to say that it’s not draining for you. But to kind of have to reaffirm and humanize and teach all the time. And so when we can get allies that can say, “Hey, I’m available, don’t bother them. Come at me with that.” I can appreciate that. And I love that. Now, not only are you pastoring a church, leading groups, doing a podcast, and all the other things, you done wrote a book! (laughter)
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 26:12
Yeah. Right? Crazy.
Latasha Morrison 26:13
You wrote a book! And tell us a little bit about your book, Make a Move.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 26:21
Yeah, so it’s interesting. So the the subtitle is, How to Stop Wavering and Make Decisions in a Disorienting World. And when I suggested this as a title for a book I’d like to write it was before the pandemic was a twinkle in anyone’s eye. It was before the response and the revolution that came from George Floyd’s murder. So I guess when I had sat down to write it, though, it was after the pandemic started, I had it all outlined and ready to go and hadn’t started writing it. So I wrote most of this actually during the pandemic.
Latasha Morrison 26:55
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 26:56
And, Make a Move, the reason I talk about that is that I know that the idea of listening to God and what does God want for me, and I’m trying to make decisions, there can be this almost like, “I’m going to sit and wait until God says something. And then when I receive it, I’m going to go.” And kind of the premise I have here in the book is, that’s not what we normally see in Scripture. Like for the most part, people are just kind of especially like in Acts, they’re just like, “Seems good to us and the Holy Spirit. Oh, the spirit of Jesus won’t let us go there. Oh, I guess we’re doing that. Hey, oh, I think we’re supposed to find a man from Macedonia. Nevermind. Lydia, she’s a woman okay.” (laughter) It’s just a lot more like, and I say it’s not trial and errort, it’s trial and learn. And that’s I think following the Holy Spirit, the counselor, the guide that Jesus promises us looks more like that. And I think that disorienting and experience of disorient, feeling disoriented. Or Jo calls it disorientated. That’s the British way to say it, disorientated, Disorientated. But I think that experience is a universal one, we all experienced that disorientation, sometimes. But of course, we had that in in common this last year. But I would call the process of reckoning with white privilege and race and my lack of experiencing racial conversations growing up and all that, I would call that a disorienting experience. And it’s kind of like if it’s not disorienting, am I actually confronting it? And so what does it mean to say, “Okay, I can lean into that and move through that,” instead of saying, “Whew I don’t like feeling disoriented, I’m going to turn around going the other direction.” And so it kind of fit the moment whether it’s the pandemic or the uprisings or figuring out how to take steps forward, this is really at its core, how do we listen to respond to God? Because if the God of the universe is trying to lead us, let’s try to figure out how to follow that for real.
Tandria Potts 28:53
[Voiceover] This is so good. Aren’t you loving this conversation? We’re gonna take a quick break. Stay with us. We’ll be right back.
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Latasha Morrison 30:51
I don’t think we like, we don’t like not being in control. And I think what the pandemic led to was, hey, you’re not in control. Like, you have no power in this. And I think that was disorienting for a lot of people. And the same thing, what happens when you start doing this hard dive of excavating some of the ideologies and belief systems that we framed, that can feel disorienting, that’s hard, that’s difficult. And so when something feels hard and difficult we equate it to being wrong. It’s wrong, you know. And I think this is so helpful for people. Because life is about turns and twists, life altering decisions. I think about, who would have thought I would be sitting here doing a podcast doing what I’m doing. Just by saying yes. The same thing with you and so many people who are listening. And I love how you use that when you talk about people in the Bible were just like, okay we’re gonna go this way. Yeah. And I was hearing, his name just completely left me, but he was a part of the Civil Rights Movement, and I’m gonna think up his name in a minute but I cannot think of it right now. But anyway, I heard him speak. And I was listening to him – Andrew Young – and I was listening to him speak. And there’s some strategy into what they were doing. But he was like, “When we decided to kneel and pray, and in the midst of people pointing guns at us, that wasn’t planned. That was like, we had to listen to the Spirit.” He said, “We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know if we were gonna die or not. But we went.” And I remember that thing just sending chills. Like, it’s like that thing. Because at every moment that I’ve taken, it’s like, just do the next right thing.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 33:11
Latasha Morrison 33:11
Whatever that is. Just do that.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 33:13
Whatever that is.
Latasha Morrison 33:14
Yeah. And I think that your book is helping us get some practical advice and action steps for moving through those types of situations.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 33:26
I remember when I was a kid, I would look in the back of my Bible when I got bored during sermons, and it has those little maps of Paul’s journeys. And I’d like follow my finger on these little journeys. And, you know, that map was made afterwards. It’s not like Paul was given a map, and then he knew how to follow it. But sometimes I’m like, okay, Jesus, where’s my map? You give me the map. I’ll start going. I’m waiting for the map, though. So you get me that map. And that’s just not how it, that’s not how your story goes; that’s not how my story’s gone. I wouldn’t have done anything I’m doing if it was about following a map.
Latasha Morrison 33:59
Yeah. What do you want people to gain from reading Make the Move? You want to help people get unstuck. What else would you like people to gain from that?
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 34:09
Yeah, help helping people get unstuck is huge. Because I think that we can have a lot of decision paralysis, or like analysis paralysis, I call it sometimes where there’s so much coming at us. And the more that’s at stake, I think the harder it is to move through when we feel the paralysis that we might feel. I think a lot of people feel that in bridge building, because it’s like, “Okay, well, is this right? What should I do? And, we could do a lot of things.” And turns out, you’re not gonna do all the things. You have to actually figure out how to discern the next best thing for you. Right? Like you said, and so I think that that’s what I’m hoping for people. I’m also hoping, a lot of the book I talk about figuring out who your discernment community is. Who are the people you actually trust to make these decisions with? I’m watching more and more people as a pastor, I’m watching more and more people try to go it alone on some of this stuff. Whether it’s racial justice, whether it’s trying to find their mission and purpose in life, whether it’s job changes or decisions they’re making with their spouse, I’m like, listen, you and your spouse, and one good friend is not a community. That’s just three different people. So what does it mean to have those people and I’m noticing how rare that’s becoming. And so seeking that out and praying through that and saying, as single people, as younger people, as people that are in the empty nester stage, where are the other people that discern with us how we’re going to invest our one life and what that means? And so I’m really not writing to any one group of people, but the fact that all of us, we’re going through different transitions, or we’re feeling feeling stuck. And another thing that I just really feel passionate about is people not settling for less than what God’s really inviting them into. And I tell you, if you actually tried to say, “Listen, Holy Spirit, I’m up for it. What are we doing?” You will never be bored. Right? (laughter) You might be a lot of things.
Latasha Morrison 36:05
Here I am, Lord! (laughter)
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 36:06
Yeah, exactly. But also trying to dismantle some of that, like, “God’s gonna have me do the last thing I want to do.” No, he’s not. He made you with the things that you’re passionate about. And it doesn’t mean it’s gonna be easy. I mean, read anybody’s story in the Bible. It’s not easy, but nothing that’s worth it is. And so I just want to encourage people and give these tools to say, let’s press into it instead of running from it and do these things with intention and keep moving. And not let it turn into like the waiting game that sometimes is less about waiting on Jesus and more about waiting, waiting in the deep waters of our fears, and not actually moving towards what, what God’s doing. So
Yeah, and you have this process you outlined for discernment it’s a form of a experimenting. Now, what does that look like practically? And how does this fit with the bridge building work?
Yeah, yeah. So I’m not a scientist. So I’m just gonna put that out there. (laughter) But, the scientific method is relatively simple, you know, and it actually works really great. Because what are scientists doing? They’re trying to answer questions they don’t know the answer to, that’s what they’re doing. And same thing with a decision and trying to figure out how to step into it. And I also think that making an experiment creates a space for us to see what God might be doing in that space. And so to say, relatively simple, I just kind of outline. Alright, the first thing is: what question are you trying to answer? What do you already know? What research have you already done? That’s what a scientists would do. What’s the first experiment you want to do that’s going to teach you more than you know, now? What are the steps of that experiment? And then when are you going to review what you learned? It’s that simple. And I think what that can do is help us get from a place of kind of wandering and wondering to moving toward something. And just like anything else in life if you actually physically move, your vantage point is going to be different. If I get up and walk across the street, I can see something I couldn’t see when I was in my front yard. That’s what movement does, it changes your vantage point. And so I think experiments do that. So in the book I talked about, there’s lots of different types of experiments that people could do relational experiments, trying to figure out dynamics in friendships, community, romantic relationships, whatever. Vocational, because that’s a huge question. Right? Many of us, that’s a big, you know, for me, that’s the one of the biggest parts of my life is thinking about vocation. And then missional experiments and purpose, mission and purpose. And kind of outlining different ways to do that. And so instead of saying, “Okay, I’m feeling like I’m supposed to be a bridge builder. Alright, what should I do next?” That’s a great question. Maybe let’s start with an experiment. So even picking up a resource as an experiment to say, “Okay, well, I have never read about this before” or intentionally listen to the stories of people who had a very different life than you, and perhaps grabbing a couple friends and saying, “Okay, we’re going to spend some time this month, and we’re going to listen to stories. What if this month we’re going to only listen to podcasts, only read books, and only watch TV shows that are produced or written by people that aren’t white? Just for a month? And then us five friends, we’re all going to do that. And we’re going to get together at the end, and we’re going to talk about it.”
Latasha Morrison 39:20
I like that idea! I love that. (laughter)
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 39:21
That would be an experiment. Wouldn’t that be cool? And you’d learn so much. Or another experiment could be instead of saying, “Well, I wish that I could figure out how to have deeper friendships with people who are different than me.” Saying, “Well, what if for this month, I’m going to go every week to a coffee shop in an area that’s more diverse than where I live or a different type of location owned by a person who’s not the same as me and I’m going to sit and I’m going to watch and listen. Not like freak people out like come and listen and sit.” Do your work. read your book. Look around. Notice. What’s different about this coffee shop here than it would be if I was in my neighborhood? These are the types of experiments that actually shape who we are. So that we’re moving towards something. I’m all for people reading books, your book is excellent, the resources that Be the Bridge has, let’s do it. But bridge building’s not a syllabus everybody.
Latasha Morrison 40:17
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 40:18
Like, hello. And it’s not like some multicultural professors gonna come give you an A or B. That’s not it. It’s it’s a long term thing. So read the books, watch the things, but experiment in behaviors that change and shape us, because I think we can behave our way into new thinking. And we can also think our way into new behaviors. Psychology would say both and.
Latasha Morrison 40:40
You gotta repeat that. Repeat that again.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 40:46
Yeah, so an experiment is an as an action. And when we take action, we behave our way into thinking differently. In psychology, if you do certain things, it’s going to change the way you think. Well, it’s true also, if you think differently, it might change your behaviors. It’s actually been debated in psychology forever. But the truth is, both are true. But sometimes we’re like, well, I’m just gonna keep thinking, thinking, thinking and hope it changes my behavior. And what I’m encouraging and I think that’s very common for like dominant North American white culture is, if I can just think differently, then my life will change. And there’s also the well how about I take some steps of action, and that will change how I think and change my experience, and putting myself in a different vantage point. So that’s what the experimenting is all about. I get into the weeds of it in the book, but I think it’s a concept that anyone can try tomorrow.
Latasha Morrison 41:38
You got to do some work.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 41:39
Yeah, yeah. You gotta do some work. And it doesn’t mean it’s gonna be easy, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t also be really good and fun and interesting and life changing, too. You know?
Latasha Morrison 41:49
Right. Right. Now, I want to rewind a little bit. And you talked about getting married in your 30s. Basically trying to consolidate all your 30 year old lives into this new. What has that been like? And what has been encouraging about that? And what has been challenging about that? Yeah, I caught you off guard, right? (laughter)
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 42:17
No, no, I mean, I kind of thought I was just gonna do the single life like I was okay with that. And I’m gonna be honest, the Holy Spirit confronted me on my independence. Because while that’s a good thing, I think it was venturing out of the good part of it. And I’m super companion oriented person. And so I think that part of my like, lady leader was like, I can do this. I don’t need no man. And you don’t, you don’t. But the question comes down to what is God inviting me into my life? And so when I made myself available to what that might look like, I did some experiments in that area. And I talked actually about these quite a bit in the book. I talked about the guy that I dated before my husband and how that led to my first panic attack trying to decide about that and it didn’t work out. I met my husband online. And another experiment that I did, and this is real. I told a bunch of my friends and not just like the friends that were my age, like, they call it a weak tie. Like my mom’s friends, or my Auntie’s friends. And I said, “Hey, if you introduce me to my husband, I will take you on a round trip ticket to anywhere in the United States.”
Latasha Morrison 43:26
Oh, maybe I need to do that. I like that.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 43:29
Listen. It makes people not so selfish and self focused real fast, when they know that they could get something.
Latasha Morrison 43:35
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 43:37
Now in a lot of ways that experiment worked. Because, not because that’s how I met my husband, but because they actually introduced me to some very nice men who helped me learn about what I was interested in. None of them were like weirdos, like, you know, anywhere to me. And, you know, it was good. So it helped me. And so that was an experiment. And there’s no such thing as a failed experiment, except that one that you don’t try. And then even online dating, I just saw that as an experiment, man, like one that you got to make sure you do it wise and whatever, have people, accountability and whatnot, but just like anything else. And that was great. I met my husband online in a way that I was just at that point, being real upfront about what I do and what I’m called to. In seminary when I was in pastor school, me and my other friends that were all gals, we joked, “How many dates do you go on before you tell him that you’re gonna be a female pastor? Like, when do you slip that in?” And I just resorted to, oh, he’s going to know before we go out. I don’t have time to deal with this.
Latasha Morrison 44:35
He ain’t wasting my time. (laughter)
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 44:37
And also, that’s not my battle to fight, you know. The person needs to be on board with what we’re doing here. And so you know, in the end God brought me my husband, JD who is a pastor’s kid. His dad’s a pastor, and I kid you not had dated a female pastor before me. That is for real. He’s got a type. And whatever that is, is fine. (laughter) And he’s not a pastor, he’s not called to ministry except for, you know, like everyone else in my church he serves in the church, he does a lot of awesome stuff. But he’s a filmmaker, actually, and storyteller. So that’s what he does in marketing and different things like that, which is a great pair for me. So I’m a storyteller in the pulpit. And he’s a storyteller on film.
Latasha Morrison 45:18
I love it.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 45:18
It’s amazing. But man, yeah, you’ve got some, first of all…so he’s also white. But we have some very different cultures. (laughter) Turns out, you can grow up 15 minutes from each other. And both be in the same kind of like brand of church and be very different. And so when people are often talking about how we are forgetting to explore what it means to have culture when we’re white people, hello, look at your marriage, okay? Look at your in laws and say, it’s not that they’re crazy, and you’re normal, there is no normal. They have a culture that’s different than yours. And there’s some good and bad things about some of the things they’ve experienced. And so that’s a lot when you’re 34, 35. And you’re going, we didn’t grow up together. We’re trying to relearn some stuff. And man it’s a lot.
Latasha Morrison 46:11
And so you met him online? And you were 15 minutes?
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 46:15
Yeah, we were 15 minutes apart for our whole lives. Basically. Since we were little kids.
Latasha Morrison 46:20
Did you know each other? Did you know of each other?
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 46:21
No, we never met. But we had 20 Facebook friends in common. So I went to those people. And I said, “You could have gotten the trip!
Latasha Morrison 46:31
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 46:31
But you weren’t thinking.” And most of our friends said, “You know what? I never would have set you two up, but now that you’re together that totally make sense.” That’s almost verbatim every single person.
Latasha Morrison 46:40
They missed it. They missed the trip! 15 minutes. Oh my goodness. That is something.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 46:45
But he’s, you know, like they say, behind every great woman there’s often the guy. No, I’m just kidding. (laughter) You know how they always say that about men. (laughter) Look everybody like, Latasha and I can both be leading, married or single, it’s fine. Listen, don’t do that. But better make sure that if you’re going to partner your life with somebody they’re going to be an asset to what you’re doing.
Latasha Morrison 47:12
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 47:13
Because that’s what’s at stake. You know, I’ll tell people time and time again, as a pastor, there is no point in hitching your life to someone else’s, if they’re not going to help you serve God better. That’s it. Like, what’s the point? It’s too hard.
Latasha Morrison 47:27
Say it again! Say it again for the people at the back.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 47:29
There is no point. There is no point, if they’re not going to help you serve God better than it’s too much work. Like, that’s the thing, being married too much work unless it’s going to empower you, and you can empower them to make a difference in the Kingdom. I just don’t, I don’t see another good purpose for it. Like, just to, just to keep populating the earth is not a good enough reason to be honest, in my opinion, you know, in my opinion.
Latasha Morrison 47:49
And I know you get, and I love how just confident you are in that. And I love the fact that you’re saying, you know, hey, we have some dogs, we’re not gonna have any children. And now what else? Because people feel like there’s this formula or this model that you have to follow. And, you know, whether you decide to get married or not, or you want to get married or not, all those different things. Everybody has a different journey. And I think we need to stop really trying to box people in and make them fit in our little Christian pocket. Nice and neat.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 48:26
Absolutely. Right, right. Because married people, man, you better have other people in your life than just that person. They can’t be everything. Single people, you need those people too. People with children, don’t you want some of us to not have children so we can help you out? Yes, you do. So that’s it. But we are so far, especially white culture is so far from supporting each other collectively. And some of the struggles in mental health and anxiety that I’m seeing – it’s different for every space – but when I look critically at my own culture, I think part of it’s because we’re so isolated and ruggedly independent and expecting then this one other human being or these children to fulfill our lives. And there’s not any collective sense of, you know, maybe it’d be good if multiple people were trying to help you discipline those kids. And you see that beautifully in other cultures. And so I think there’s a lot that we can learn from that.
Latasha Morrison 49:19
I love it. I love it. And even you mentioning white culture some people will listen to this and say, “What culture? What are you talking about? What are you?” But if they’ve been through any of the Be the Bridge information they will get that and understand that. There’s a lot happening in our society and I know, you’re a pastor and I know you’re leading, and I just have to mention this, especially with the work that you’re doing. There’s a lot of people in the work that we’re doing right now specifically people of color to see some of the lash as it relates to racial justice work, you know? And I would love for you to, and some of the pushback of Marxism and communism and leftists and what’s the other one? CRT. Everything is CRT now. Someone posted a passage from Ezekiel, and someone said that’s CRT. I’m like what! So now Ezekiel is CRT?! You guys have lost your mind. Like what in the world? I just want to have a moment for you to just speak into that. What encouragement do you have for people of color? And then also for people who are getting some of that pushback?
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 50:48
Yeah, yeah, man. Well, look how many isms we can come up with. So we don’t have to deal with racism.
Latasha Morrison 50:54
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 50:56
Whoops. What? Hey, everybody. Yeah, like you said, we don’t have to look too far back in history to see how trying to deflect into, it’s a form of gaslighting to be honest right? To say, oh, no, this isn’t true we’re gonna start talking about these other problems. Like, for instance, Marxism, or communism, or whatever fears people might have. That deflecting from what what somebody is trying, especially when what someone is trying to say is their lived experience as a person of color, I mean, that’s a form of abuse, in my opinion, to deflect away from what someone’s saying before you fully heard what they’re saying. Sure, I mean, when it comes to CRT or different theories that, you know, there’s a bunch of different opinions about things. Everything we take with a grain of salt, everything we take critically. Even as we approach scripture, there’s lots of interpretations. How do we have some fear and trembling and humility that we are not the people who know everything? And perhaps when we’re trying to so quickly, you know, I’ll use the word like, demonize or put something into a category that we haven’t really learned about. How many people know what CRT stands for that are out there campaigning against it? I mean, just to be honest, like, what the acrynym is?
Latasha Morrison 52:07
Yeah, who developed it and why it was developed.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 52:11
But besides kind of the, like you said, the lash. I had a conversation with a gentleman. And he was pushing back, not on CRT necessarily. He was talking about, you know, “Why do I have to even think about what happened to Daunte Wright? Why does it have anything to do with me?” He was doing that kind of thing. I just listened to him. And I said, “What do you think it is about you and me, that has this part of me that just so badly wants to not be implicated in something? And as we believe that Jesus is sitting here, what would I say to him about how deeply I want to not be a part of XYZ problem? What does that mean?” And I love this idea: “Can we interrogate our thoughts? And say what is that? What? Why is that? Don’t push it away. It’s there. Right? Why? Why do I feel this need to defend myself so desperately? And what does that mean, in light of the gospel of a God who has taken everything from me on a cross and has sacrificed everything for me, who did nothing to deserve it? And I am so vehemently not wanting to be implicated or complicit in something before I could even think critically about whether or not that’s true.” And so, you know, I’d say to other leaders like me, we’ve got to start with ourselves. I was able to ask that gentleman that conversation, that question, because I’m asking myself. Why is it that I don’t want it to be my fault? Why is that always the reaction that I have? And if it doesn’t come out of my mouth, it’s somewhere in there, you know. Why? Why is it that I don’t always feel like I need to confront that bias that I notice in myself. And just not out of trying to shame but to be curious about it. Like, could we be curious about why that’s the case, instead of just saying, is it true or not? Or can we hammer on to these things and jump on them? I just think there’s some introspection and some reflection, and when I asked that gentleman that question he said, “You know, I don’t know. I don’t know.” So I think that’s just a really important question. “And if Jesus was sitting here right now, what do you think he would say about how you’ve been speaking about Daunte Wright? And what happened?” “Yeah, well, I don’t know.” So I just think I don’t know for sure, either. But we believe the Spirit of Jesus is with us in these conversations. And so what what about what these lawyers have learned that have resulted in the critical race theory makes us think that there’s nothing God might have been doing through them to bring wisdom? Like I have to be sure that they could not possibly, well, because they’re not Christians. Wait a second. Do we think that God is not working through people who are made in His image in every field regardless of if they acknowledge him or not? It doesn’t mean that anything’s absolute truth and all that kind of stuff, but how are we not willing to hold space for a discussion before we have already judged it from any perspective? And I say that to myself, as I listened to some of these folks say stuff I’m going, “How did you get here?” Well, let’s ask some more questions, and see how we can get there. And, I think of leaders of color. I just want to say, if you need to exit those conversations, just do it. I know that some people, Latasha, I know, you feel called to these spaces. But we as white leaders have to come into some of those spaces and absorb some of that, because it is damaging to people. And I’m sorry that that’s the case, I’m sorry about how that’s experienced. And I see that in the culture that I’m a part of, I see that desire to be the exception, you know, that American exceptionalism. And I see that in myself. And so I know why we get there. And it’s terrible. And I’m so sorry. And I’m grateful for the work that so many people do. But I also want to say you can go out you can take a break, you can exit stage left. Just leave them in here with me and we’ll keep talking. Because it’s been so painful. And I just think it must be exhausting.
Latasha Morrison 56:11
Yeah, yeah, that’s so good. That’s so good. And I know, that’s going to really encourage our community that’s listening. That is like, does anybody get it? Like, this is so crazy to us to hear this and how this is going into mainstream now and all those different things. But what is bringing you hope right about now? What are some things that is bringing you hope?
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 56:40
Oh man. There’s a lot of things, there’s a lot of things. My church starting to get back to worshiping together. And just realizing that, I know not everybody is a musical worship person but, I think there’s something the Holy Spirit can do through worshiping together that brings healing. And so I’m praying for other churches to be able to start doing that. We were trying to be real safe. So there’s a lot of time we weren’t together. So we’re just beginning to that. So that’s been giving me a lot of hope and a lot of life. And, you know, I continue to follow all of what’s happening in the response to George Floyd. You know, having just had the one year anniversary here. There were some really peaceful and wonderful celebrations that happened, that were sober celebrations, but celebrations nevertheless, because a person’s life is worth celebrating. And so much came from that, that moment, and that experience that no one should have had to die to be able to move forward. But I feel like there was like some, there were celebrations and there was also remembrances. And there was something really life giving about hitting that one year mark and seeing how many people were still saying this is what we’re doing. And conversations I’ve had with people that said, it wasn’t until that happened that I made the commitment that this is a lifelong process for me. And I heard a story the other day by this woman named Jeanelle Austin, Black woman who has been been invited by the community to be the caretaker of George Floyd Square, which is the exact intersection where George was murdered and there’s still a memorial to him and people are holding space there every single day. This is a place of prayer. There are people that are praying and leading, leaders of color that are leading in that space. And Jeanelle is a Jesus follower and is an incredible woman. People probably don’t even realize the type of work she’s doing. The idea of caretaking, they take every memorial that’s left and before it can get rained on or anything they’re documenting it and they’re taking and they’re putting it in and caretaking for all of the emotions that are being poured out in the space is incredible. I know you stopped by when you were here. And I heard her talking on the radio the other day. I got a chance to talk with her once earlier this year. But I heard her talking on the radio and I knew it was her, I just like listening to her voice. And they said, “Oh this is Jeanelle Austin.” And she was telling the story about how a man, a white man had, maybe like a 20 something, had gotten a little tipsy, gotten drunk and he had spray painted something on one of the murals. And he was invited the next day because he didn’t remember it happening because he was so out of it. He was devastated. And he was invited the next day by Jeanelle and some of the others to enter into a restoration process, to restore him from the action that he took that was clearly coming from some deep place in himself because he was not totally aware. What’s going on and in your soul that this happened? And I know that this man comes from a place of faith. And she was describing this process of how he volunteered to care take at the corner with them for a number of days in a number of weeks. And the first day he was there he was taking some of the notes that had been written and he was putting them into these notebooks where they’re keeping them and they’re writing stuff down. And she watched him grab the first one. And it said, “Black lives are made in the image of God.” And she watched him, like hold this piece of paper. And she said, I could see on his face this realization, I had desecrated the face of God. Like that wasn’t just George Floyd’s face. That wasn’t. It was a person made in the image of God. And she said, I just watched this like transcendent moment where he realized like, the divinity and what it means that God has created all these people in God’s image. And that’s what it means when you spray paint onto something that’s in the honor of someone whose life has been lost. And I think about that, and I think that gives me so much life. Like that gives me so much life because of the work that Jeanelle is doing. And because of restoration process like that can happen to a guy who’s got a substance problem, and that story got told on public radio. I just feel like there’s so much that can happen. Like with Make a Move. Like if we can just say, “God, I want to be on your heels, what are you doing? And how can I respond?” If that was our orientation every day, like that just gets me excited. If we could wake up every day and say, “Alright, I got stuff on my calendar. But in the midst of those things, God, what are you doing? And how do you want me to join?”
Latasha Morrison 1:01:17
I love it.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 1:01:18
That’s where we’re gonna figure out how we can leverage privilege and be people who bring hope and help and learn. We can do that in our everyday space, those spaces we’re already in. That stuff gets me excited.
Yeah. God, what are you doing? And how do I respond? If we approached every question with that. Because we know that God is moving and doing something. We sense it. And I hope people do not miss it. My prayer is for people not to make the same historical mistakes. Like, I don’t want to see anyone miss it. And I wish we did more of the restorative justice like what was done to this young man. I would love to see us move toward that restoring people back to community, loving them back into community. And this work is hard. It’s difficult. You’re a pastor, you’re a wife, you’re doing a lot of things. How are you taking care of yourself? How are you practicing joy and self care?
Oh, man, that’s such a good question. I love stand up paddleboarding.
Latasha Morrison 1:02:24
Oh, wow! (laughter)
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 1:02:27
Listen, listen. If I can get out in nature, like I told you earlier, it’s been hot. But if I can do stuff like that, oh, it’s so good. And I’ll tell you another thing, I need to sleep. I don’t know what it is some people saying I needed six and a half hours. I’m like gimme eight hours of sleep. This whole pandemic I got some solid seven and a half, eight hours. And I was not ashamed. If that meant I didn’t get up till nine, whatever. Like I need to get it. So there’s little things like that where you just got to say, “Look, I need my sleep. I’m a grown woman, but I need to sleep. Okay. That’s what I need to do.” (laughter) So I need to sleep, I need to do that. And that gives me the energy to ask those questions about what the Spirit might be doing. And that’s been good.
Latasha Morrison 1:03:12
Because you had sleep, right? You could say, ok what is the spirit doing? Because I’ve had a little sleep.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 1:03:17
Otherwise you ask that question and all of a sudden you’re asleep. So yeah, that’s been good. Just getting out in nature. And I like getting out in the snow too. But those are the things I’ve just had to keep that going. That’s what it’s been for me for sure.
Latasha Morrison 1:03:30
Well, it’s so good to talk with you and to give our audience a glimpse of who you are. Go pick up her book. And just, you know, follow her on all the socials. We’ll post everything. I am just so grateful for your work and what you’re doing in Minnesota. And, you know, one other thing I was gonna say I know that there’s some other things you like to do that I didn’t know that you like to do. I was impressed. You just remodeled some stuff in your house. Right?
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 1:04:02
Yeah, that is, I mean, I know not everybody would think home remodeling is life giving and self care. But for me it is. I love that kind of stuff. I wouldn’t call myself a designer, but I like to pick up my own design and stuff. Yeah, come on my Instagram: @PastorSteph. And you can see my home renovation, my own little HGTV show. We remodeled, yeah, we remodeled the whole first level of a house and my brother and I did a lot of the work ourselves. And it’s it’s really fun because you just you know, you get to see something get it completed, which doesn’t happen in church ministry a lot. You know what I mean? Like, people aren’t projects so you don’t get to check them off a list. But, I got to check stuff off a list and got to see something go from zero to hero and put in my backsplash and it was a blast.
Latasha Morrison 1:04:05
I never went back to see the finished projects. I just know like I like to decorate but like you were like knocking down, removing cabinets, and knocking down walls. I’m like, wait a minute! This is like demolition. Wait a minute! (laughter).
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 1:05:03
That saved my life over this last winter cause I got to do all that stuff, active stuff in my house, my new house. And so it’s almost done. So the final final steps will probably be done this weekend, and then I can post all my before and after pictures.
Latasha Morrison 1:05:16
Okay. Okay, so I didn’t miss it.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 1:05:18
No, no, no. Yeah, there was a couple before and afters along the way. But what a privilege. I’m really passionate about housing. And like I mentioned in Minnesota, housing disparities are huge just like education disparities. And I’m really passionate about affordable housing and this different stuff. And so learning about how to do things in my house is just a part of that passion, too. And getting to be a part of that and encouraging other people to take steps towards homeownership and figuring out how to do that. Like I was 25 year old single gal the first time I bought a house.
Latasha Morrison 1:05:46
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 1:05:46
And, you know, let’s be honest, that was because my mom had a signature that helped me do that. That’s a big deal. So what does it look like for us to have those conversations? So I feel like it’s a thing that God’s given me like it’s a passion and a joy that I get so excited to see other people step into also. So yeah, kind of not the most typical hobby that a like a gal pastor might have. But you might find me with some power tools. (laughter)
Latasha Morrison 1:06:10
I love it. I love it. Well thank you for joining us on the Be the Bridge podcast. I mean, I’m so grateful that you’re a bridge builder, and most importantly, that you are a follower of Christ. So, love you! And it was great having you.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien 1:06:24
Love you, too. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
Tandria Potts 1:06:26
[Voiceover] Go to the donors table if you’d like to hear the unedited version of this podcast.
Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge podcast. To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization and or to become a bridge builder in your community, go to BetheBridge.com Again, that’s BetheBridge.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Travon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. The host and executive producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the senior producer and transcribed by Sarah Connatser. Please join us next time. This has been a Be the Bridge production.