“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” – Arundati Roy
Theme for the Week
Growth Mindset: One of the “good guys [gals]” -As those who regard themselves as “good people”, how did we get here and how can we be made new? That is the over-arching question we want to ask with our summer book study that is a part of the larger work of the Presbytery as we consider ways to continue to grow into our anti-racist stance and leadership.
- The Person You Mean to Be – Chapter Three
- For those who want to dive deeper: Emergent Strategy – intentional adaptation: how we change (pgs 67-82)
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. -Matthew 7: 1-5
This week’s video is a conversation that is part of our denomination’s ongoing video series on Covid-19 and its many intersections. This conversation is specifically on Covid-19 and race and led by the Rev. Denise Anderson, who was the co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly and now serves in our denominational offices working on anti-racism training and intercultural proficiency.
I don’t have the words yet to fully encapsulate what I experienced the last few days. Our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) held its General Assembly last week. Like all things with Covid-19, this had to go online, which was a challenging problem to solve. Typically, the General Assembly, known as “GA” is every other year, and a space where thousands of people from across our country, even across the world, show up at a convention center for a little over a week. It is a complex meeting, filled with many things from special events, fundraisers, awards ceremonies, parliamentary procedures, voting, networking, social action and decision-making. 90% of what happens at GA had to be put away with barely three months to plan a digital Assembly. What we were left with was a stripped-down Assembly, mostly voting, parliamentary procedure, and doing only the business of the Assembly that was “essential” from the perspective of our constitution for the functioning of the denomination for the next two years. With little time to prepare, and already more than a year and a half of planning and preparation needing to be scrapped, and without a real budget to work with, that was the best we got.
Personally, I didn’t like it at all, but I also am a realist, and understood this was the best we could do with the hand we had been dealt, along with the rest of the world, with the health pandemic. I trust our staff in Louisville and know they made, with their boards, the best decisions they could, given the serious and significant curveball of Covid-19.
And yet….last week as I participated in the online Assembly, racism showed up. Today I was part of a debrief with the staff and board leadership of the Assembly, by virtue of the elected position I hold. Today was my first meeting. I was with the group of people who put this all together in the last few months. They talked with great agony about how they had tried to put things together to work from a parliamentary and organizational perspective, and how some of the human interaction dynamics got the short-end of the stick in terms of attention.
You see, things fell apart over the weekend as we met. If you want to read about what happened, here is a good place to start. Former moderators of the Assembly wrote an open letter that was published today. Friends in Christ who are reading this blog post this week – our GA did serious violence and harm to our siblings of color this past week, most especially to women of color. It was intentional. I have been talking to my friends and colleagues these past few days and they are hurting, they are grieving, and some of them are going to give up on our church, the PC(U.S.A.) because we are a harmful, violent place that does not seem to be able to take all the steps we need to take to be well. Our sin and brokenness is once more before us. Do we have eyes to see, ears to hear? Do we want to be well and aligned with the Way of Jesus Christ?
The chapter we are reading this week talks about privilege and locating yourself. It also talks about headwinds and tailwinds. Our church and its structures are set up for those who know the rules, have been trained in them, who do well academically as readers and public speakers, who are gregarious and outgoing, and tend to have magnetic personalities. With our privilege, we have a lot of headwinds. We aren’t set up all that much for the Spirit at work in our midst. Dolly Chugh talks in this week’s chapter about the sweeping article in The Atlantic from Ta-Nehishi Coates (and if you haven’t read everything he’s written or watched some of his conversations, stop what you are doing now and do so) on reparations. What are the reparations we need to be a part of in the church? Where does our privilege show up? What is the racial autobiography of your life, and how does that intersect with the racial autobiography of your community of faith or of your denomination? Do you know the information to talk about these things, and if not, how do you want to be more curious about these questions and do the work of unveiling to get to a place of real truth from which real reparation can come?
Perhaps by next week I’ll be ready to write my own thoughts about the church and how our GA went down and what happened. Right now I’m swirling in my own head, thinking about these questions of my own racial and larger community autobiography, examining who I am in the midst of these things, and praying a lot. I feel the weight of this week’s chapter on privilege and proximity to power deeply and also the call at the end to not be a good but a real person. Reading through adrienne maree brown’s chapter this week on intentional adaptation also speaks to me. The GA last week wasn’t set up with malicious intentions. Good, faithful people set it up, under huge amounts of pressure in the midst of a global health pandemic barely in our consciousness for six months. There is a lot to commend. But, at the same time, we missed the mark and racism showed up because it was left unexamined in the preparations. adrienne challenges us in her writing to take a page from nature, to consider murmurations, the flocking of birds in sync with each other. As I read her chapter, I imagine the God of Creation still speaking to us through Creation, offering us yet a better way to be in community, a way we have separated ourselves from, by being so disconnected from our bodies, our spirits and the larger Creation. That is for me, the most important danger of white supremacy culture to lift up, that it disconnects us from God’s will and God’s intent for living together in real community and a lack of attention to Creation shows us how much we have been detached and displaced from that will and intent, because God wants us for just not human connection, but interspecies and Creation-connection too:
Here’s how it works in a murmuration/shoal/swarm: each creature is turned into its neighbors, the creatures fright around it in the formation. This might be the birds on either side, or the six fish in each direction. There is a right relationship, a right distance between them – too close and they rash, too far away and they can’t feel the micro-adaptations of the other bodies. Each creature is shifting direction speed, and proximity based on the information of the other creatures’ bodies. There is a deep trust in this: to lift because the birds around you are lifting, to live based on your collective real-time adaptations. In this way thousands of birds or fish or bees can move together, each empowered with basic rules and a vision to live. Imagine our movements cultivating this type of trust and depth with each other, having strategic flocking in our playbooks.
Is there a log in your eye? More than one, two or three? Can you take them out? What will that now open space help you see that God is opening up in front of and around you?
We have started a podcast for our journey this summer. The first session is already up on the podcast and the next session will start next week. We are giving folks some time to find the new podcast first. You can access Connecting Our Conversations at psne.buzzsprout.com, and subscribe to it from there. In the meantime, this week for listening, we recommend a conversation between writers Brené Brown and Austin Channing Brown on I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness which can be found at this link: https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-austin-channing-brown-on-im-still-here-black-dignity-in-a-world-made-for-whiteness/
In the chapter for this week, Dolly Chugh offers the opportunity to take a look at privilege and how it shows up in your life. She suggests a tool that is not all that new, but might be new to you. It is from Peggy McIntosh, and her article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack.” Her 50 questions are worth examining and are the challenge for your journaling and reflection that I set before you this week. Additionally, I challenge you to share what you learned with at least one other person, to have a brave and vulnerable conversation about what you are doing this summer, and what you are learning and what it means for you as a person of faith. I’d love to hear how that goes for you this week.