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Summer 2020 Book Study – Week Three

Jun 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 Two
  • For those who want to dive deeper: Emergent Strategy – fractals: the relationship between small and large (pgs 51-66)

Scripture

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. -Matthew 15: 21-28

Watch

This week’s video is a TEDTalk by Kimberlé Crenshaw. It discusses the intersections of bias around race and gender. Our anti-racism consultant, Jessica Vazquez-Torres recommended it last fall for the leadership of the Presbytery to watch in preparation for a retreat we had in November 2019. This is a powerful watch, and I encourage you to take a look at it and digest what lessons it has for each of us.

Reflection

In my ministry I have preached on this passage from Matthew 15 many times. Sometimes people get mad at me when I preach on this passage because I usually say something like this and it upsets their ideas about Jesus:

I love this passage because it shows the human Jesus, the Jesus who was a product of his time and place. The Jesus who wasn’t perfect. I love that the writer of Matthew’s Gospel included this story because we have a pretty predictable pattern in history of whitewashing our “heroes” and disappearing unflattering stories about those who we are to look up to; and in Jesus’ case, worship and follow as Lord of our lives. But we also believe that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. That’s quite the problem theologically – and thank God for the writer of Matthew’s Gospel, we can see Jesus’ humanness on full display here. 

He is rude and dismissive and sexist to the Canaanite woman. He calls her a dog. Jesus was even thinking and saying in the sentence before this encounter that his salvation and his work was only for some people, certain people. 

And this woman challenged Jesus, she pushed back at his ideas, she corrected him. And she opened up his mind. Maybe, just maybe, the Spirit needed to intervene sometimes in Jesus when he was a living, breathing human walking on the earth to get him out of his head. Jesus had to have grown up with biases, with preconceived notions, with things he heard from his parents, from his community while growing up just like you and I have. 

And those things shaped him, how could they have not. 

Yes, even Jesus, our Savior, wasn’t perfect. Even Jesus has bias. For me, this is really Good News because it means that I worship a Savior who wasn’t perfect, who learned from his mistakes, who sometimes had to be set straight. The humanness of Jesus on display in this passage tells me something about God – that God uses imperfect vessels of humanity and Creation to bring order in chaos and hope and new life. If everything was perfect, if Jesus was perfect, then I think for me, he’d be harder to follow, and harder to understand. I’m so grateful this story is in the Bible and tells us something surprising about the nature of the God who loves us and wants to make us whole.

I was also thinking this week about a story I was told growing up that shaped some of my racial biases. That got deeply embedded in me. When I was growing up, my parents liked to talk politics and current events at the dinner table. Looking back at these conversations as an adult, I can see that they were trying to push my brother and I to think critically and sharpen and hone our debate skills, to learn how to defend what we thought. Conversations about race came up from time-to-time. I can’t remember if it was my brother or I who asked the question, but it was asked if a black person would ever be President. I remember my stepfather’s words clearly – “I won’t see that in my lifetime, but I think you will see a woman President in your lifetime. But you won’t ever see a black person in the White House in your lifetime, America is too racist for that. I wish it wasn’t that way, but that’s the truth of who we are. And she’ll probably be a Republican, not a Democrat, we’ll go for a conservative woman first.” 

This idea was repeated a few times growing up. I came to believe it at some level. Both the fatalism about the state of things in our country and what I could and could not expect to see in my lifetime. Of course, fast-forward to the election of 2008 of Barack Obama. I called my stepfather on Election Day and reminded him of the comment. His words, “I know. I was wrong. I just didn’t ever think this was even possible. I didn’t think we’d ever get there.” I don’t think his words to my brother and I growing up were intended to be racist. They were words of lament, of sadness for what we couldn’t expect, and how bad things were racially. And even if that made him sad, my stepfather wanted us to be clear-eyed about how bad things were and not get our hopes up. 

Last week my parents came to visit us, and I expected that we might have a conversational confrontation about police violence. My teenage daughter is very anti-police and deeply upset by the level of violence and impunity that is going on all around us. I was surprised to hear my parents both say on the first night that they think defunding police departments and completely overhauling everything is the way to go. They shared with us how sad they are at how broken and irreparable the system in our country is, and that it needs to be leveled to the ground and completely rebuilt in a whole new way. 

I was shocked. It wasn’t what I expected. 

That’s the thing about bias. You have the ideas in your head, and they are fixed. I have had a fixed mindset about where my parents were, and last week they showed up at my house and completely surprised me. I expected fireworks, and there were none. I expected centrism, and that’s not what I got. 

These words from adrienne maree brown in Emergent Strategy on pgs. 52-53 (part of the deeper reading for this week) help me conceptualize what Dolly Chugh is getting at in Chapter 2 on the stuckness of the “good guy/gal” trope and what it does to us: 

….we – Americans – don’t know how to do democracy. We don’t know how to make decisions together, how to create generative compromises, how to advance policies that center justice. Most of our movements are reduced to advancing false solutions, things we can get corporate or governmental agreement on, which don’t actually get us where we need to be….This awareness led me to look at organizations more critically. So many of our organizations working for social change are structured in ways that reflect the status quo. We have singular charismatic leaders, top down structures, money-driven programs, destructive methods of engaging conflict, unsustainable work cultures, and little to no impact on the issues at hand. This makes sense; it’s the water we’re swimming in. But it creates patterns……what we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system.

The “system” can be your household, your faith, your organization, your community. We are working hard at shifting organizational culture in the Presbytery of Southern New England around the question of anti-racism and equity because we believe that a focus on this move us to have a healthy system, where deeper faithfulness and deeper devotedness to the Way of Jesus of Nazareth, fully human and fully divine, can flourish. This is why the deep question of what implicit biases are stuck in your soul, your subconscious practice are so incredibly important to interrogate. Because they are like a fractal, which keeps on repeating, and repeating and repeating. And a fractal can be a force for New Life or suffering and death.

Listen

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.

Action

In the chapter for this week, Dolly Chugh suggests taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT) as a way of personally assessing where you are in terms of bias and what goes on in your own mind. It’s free and online. Carve out some time this week to take the test and then to continue the journaling project this week about your personal and community noticings, especially focusing on the questions of intersectionality that were raised in the TEDTalk. The test can be accessed at this link:  https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

Contact Us

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

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