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SUMMER 2020 BOOK STUDY – Week Seven

Jul 23, 2020

“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. 

Readings

  • The Person You Mean to Be – Chapter Six
  • For those who want to dive deeper: Emergent Strategy – resilience: how we recover and transform (pgs 123-150)

Scripture

“When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people[a] came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  -Mark 2: 1-12

Watch

Last week I shared a conversation with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. This week I share another one to watch that was produced as a live webcast earlier this week. This week is “2019 Guggenheim Fellow and New York Times bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi will discuss his renowned book “How to Be an Antiracist” with Dr. Charlene M. Dukes, president of Prince George’s Community College.”

Reflection

This week’s chapter begins with a discussion about “white racial identity development.” You can see a chart and learn more about that at this link

The other piece that is shared and discussed are “good mistakes.” Chugh defines this as “[g]ood mistakes unlock learning because they focus our attention on a key step or insight that may have previously been out of focus. For mistakes to be good, a growth mindset is needed….researchers found that, after a mistake, people in a fixed mindset paid less attention to mistakes than people in a growth mindset, as shown by the electrical activity in their brains. Fixed mindset people were more likely to continue making mistakes, failing to learn from the mistake. On the other hand, growth mindset people who paid extra attention to mistakes showed improved performance. This is the power of a good mistake, if your eyes stay open. In fact, a powerful way to foster a growth mindset in yourself and the people around you is to use language like ‘that was a good mistake.’ By normalizing mistakes as part of learning, we can nudge people away from an either/or mindset.”

One of the biggest problems of whiteness is the need to be perfect/smart/educated or to appear so. Pride is a huge issue. The result of this is white silence. Robin DiAngelo writes of white silence in this way (if you want to read more you can go here), “In racial dialogue, white silence functions overall to shelter white participants by keeping their racial perspectives hidden and thus protected from exploration or challenge. Not contributing one’s perspectives serves to ensure that those perspectives cannot be expanded.” 

  • How often have you stayed quiet? 
  • What were the reasons for this? 
  • Thinking you didn’t have something to contribute? 
  • Afraid to say the wrong thing? 
  • Worried you wouldn’t appear “woke”? 

Silencing is a huge piece we all need to address and struggle with. It’s a privilege to be silent or to choose silence. I notice in the Presbytery that there is a fair amount of white silence going on. We know we need to talk, but just starting the conversation or entering into it is terrifying. So we stay silent. 

The book is starting to pivot and to push us a bit as it gets to about the middle. This week’s chapter is shorter, I want to encourage you to go back and reread it because it is powerful and Dolly Chugh is about to turn up the heat as we hit the halfway mark. 

Where are you silent, where are you on the identify development chart? What are things you are learning about that were there all along but you were able to overlook because it’s easy and you aren’t directly affected? 

adrienne maree brown’s writing this week describes this as building resilience. “The way water knows just how to flow, not force itself around a river rock; then surely I can stretch myself in the shape my own path is asking of me.” (Corina Fadel). 

I chose the reading from Mark 2 for this week because of the role of healing and transformation in the life of the paralytic. Jesus asks: what is easier, to say that your sins are forgiven, or to take up your mat and walk? If you have been broken for a long time, that is your state and for many people it is the narrative that they have come to believe about themselves. To get up and walk and really live into the new reality of healing is a whole other thing.

Let me say this plainly: 

you are broken, I am broken. 

It’s ok to be broken. 

This feels to me like why white silencing is such a thing for so many of us. As a friend of mine who is a practitioner in this work of anti-racism in the Presbytery says, “People need to get used to the idea they are going to f*ck up.” That’s strong language, but maybe that’s what we need. You and I are going to make mistakes. We might look stupid in public. You might say the wrong thing and be embarrassed. 

The fixed vs. growth mindset that Dolly Chugh is trying to get us to understand in this chapter is that if we stay stuck in the fear of messing up, and allow silence to be our default, then we are never going to go anywhere. And the suffering won’t actually be ours, the suffering will continue to be visited upon our friends and colleagues of color. Nothing will change. We can wring our hands all we want at the news, at the state of the world, to say we think differently as “good people” but if we don’t get over silencing, nothing will change. 

As people of faith, we know that is not acceptable. 

That’s not resurrection-living. 

That’s not a new life. 

That’s not being born again into Christ. 

Jesus says he comes to bring a sword into our lives, not necessarily peace. He’s not advocating violence, he’s just reminding us (again) that his Way is going to push boundaries and cause challenge. It might feel like a death, but it really isn’t. 

Maybe at the end of this passage from Mark when the people said, “We have never seen anything like this!” and are surprised and shocked, it’s not that a paralyzed man has been healed. They haven’t ever seen the movement from a fixed to a growth mindset. Lots of people who have been made well still stay in bed. 

Have you seen the movement from fixed to growth? Is there a space where that is playing out in your life? How can you demonstrate that for someone else who is still stuck in fear and silencing. How can you provide a testimony?

Listen

On Being produced an excellent podcast episode I encourage you to listen to. It is described this way: “The show (Notice the Rage, Notice the Silence) we released with Minneapolis-based trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem in the weeks after George Floyd’s killing has become one of our most popular episodes, and has touched listeners and galvanized personal searching. So we said yes when Resmaa proposed that he join On Being again, this time together with Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility. Hearing the two of them together is electric — the deepest of dives into the calling of our lifetimes.”

Action

Make a list of things in your life that have moved from fixed to growth when it comes to your racial identity. 

Make another list of things in your life that are fixed and are not growing when it comes to your racial identity.

What do you notice? 

What can you do? 

When you finish this exercise, please read this piece of writing by the Rev. Christopher DeLa Cruz, America’s Optimistic Spirit is Killing Us Because We Don’t Know What Faith Is.” 

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Presbytery of Southern New England
P.O. Box 388, Chester, CT 06412

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