Reflecting on our “White Supremacy Teach-In”

There’s a story unfolding. Always. And there is a particular unfolding that is happening here, and within me, and I need to speak to it. This is of particular interest to those who attended the White Supremacy Teach-In last week; I sure wish all of you could have been here.

We took some risks. I co-led the service with Sheena Howard, and we took the risk of not being totally in control of what would happen when…there was no planned out and scripted order of service. We risked talking about a difficult subject that was sure to bring up shame and defensiveness and hurt…which it did. We risked using language that would not be comfortable to everyone, including ourselves. We risked stepping into our own vulnerability, knowing that we wouldn’t do it perfectly, and that we would screw up.

And I did. Screw up, I mean. If I were given the gift of a do-over, there are some things I would do differently. For example, we offered participatory moments when folks were asked for comments or questions. I wish I had prepared better for that; while I still believe it wasn’t a time for debate, in a do-over I would have suggested a silence after each comment during which we could let the words settle.

We did one role-play during the service, and in a do-over, I would have reflected on how best to assign parts. What happened is that a person of African ancestry asked to play a role that I had imagined would be played by a white person…and in my surprise, I reacted poorly. In other words, in the process of handing out roles, I came face to face with my own racial biases. Please let me have a do-over.

And most important of all, in a do-over I would want to be a better advocate for Vanita. There was a point in the service when she, a brown person, expressed that she has been hurt here, and I responded to it just as I responded to all the other comments, which was to go on to the next person. I wish that I had stopped. I wish that I had asked everyone to notice what Vanita said and the courage it took to say it.  I wish that I had said to her: “Thank you. I see you. I hear you. I’m so sorry you’ve been hurt by the white culture here…and by my white privilege. I promise to show up better for you next time.”

This is an unfolding story because I have some choices now. I can shrink up from the mistakes I made and put it all back under the rug, choosing never to bring up the realities of white supremacy again. Or, as I suspect you already know I have done, I can choose to continue the difficult work of undoing white privilege. I hope you will choose that with me…and that we allow ourselves and each other as many do-overs as we need…to learn…and to keep going…no matter how hard it is to face ourselves and what must be done. And what I promise is that I will stay in it with you, and that we will discover untold, surprising gifts in this process.

There were many people last week who wanted to speak but who we didn’t have time to hear. Later, I learned what Sheena’s father, Bruce Howard, would have shared, had he had the opportunity:

Bruce would have told us that he grew up in a small village…in a time and place that was both racist and homophobic…and then, as life would have it, he had a daughter who is lesbian and who married a brown person. He says it took his daughter, Sheena, to bring him forward to where he is now…he was not going to lose their daughter because of the bias and discrimination that he learned as a child.  He has been changed, and is changing still. His words for us: “If I can do it, any, and all, of you can do it.”

We can, each of us, unfold. We can, each of us, trust the unfolding.

I’m going to share this, these words from my heart, in our service on May 14.

Yours in the unfolding,
Rev. Julie
May 12, 2017

A Community of Unfolding – May 2017

I remember a time as a teenager, riding on the tailgate of a pickup, gazing backwards as the truck drove forward up a hill. Watching the fields and trees disappear behind me, I experienced a strange sensation… it was as if the landscape I was leaving was doubling in on itself, folding itself up. And, because I was looking backwards, I could not see the world that was opening up in front of me.
I am reminded of how, in Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer suggests that when a door closes, one might turn around and see the vastness of the horizon that expands in front.
It is common to hear that the universe is unfolding as it should. I’m not convinced that there is any ‘should’ about it, but rather that it is unfolding as it will… as a cumulative result of all that has happened, AND in response to all the awaiting possibilities. The universe is unfolding, and our lives are unfolding, both as a consequence of the past AND as an invitation into possibility. We have a part in determining how our lives will unfold.
Many are describing this moment in Unitarian Universalism as a time when we are poised at a precipice…in the liminal space between what has been and what could be. It is a moment when we can shape our future and move more fully into the people and communities that we say we want to be. In order to do that, we need to take stock of what has past, and be honest with ourselves about who we have been. We also need to take courage…and leap!
And so, on May 7th, we are taking another step deeper into the possibility of becoming a truly welcoming and inclusive congregation. We’ll examine the systems of ‘whiteness’ that permeate our culture. We’ll talk about things that will be uncomfortable for some, or maybe even make some angry. And, we’ll imagine the new possibilities that await. I’m excited and hopeful about where this will lead.
Through it all, we’ll remain committed to the search for truth and meaning in the service of more love, more justice. And, we’ll remember our covenant to ‘cherish each other as friends,’ knowing that each one of us is on a personal journey of learning and discovery that is always unfolding. There is so much possibility!
In hope and faith, ~ Rev. Julie

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