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Sustained Radical Racial Reconciliation

This month, strategy team member MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series of posts on our most recent National Gathering. Now that we’ve been back in the trenches of ministry for a while, what ideas have really “stuck”? What keeps nagging at us, whether in a positive or challenging way? How has our view of or approach to ministry been impacted by what we experienced? What continues to be a struggle? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

Today, NEXT Church executive team co-chairs Shavon Starling-Louis and Lori Raible close the month’s reflections with a conversation.

SHAVON: Can NEXT Church be a place of sustained radical racial reconciliation?

Societally and denominationally there are many places in which the thought of racial reconciliation is celebrated. But it is often relegated to the incremental “not too much, not too fast” fashion. It often can feel that communities of leadership (read: committees) are created in the paint-by-numbers vein (i.e. “ we need to find __ black people… __ Latin American… __Native American… __ Asian Americans so we won’t be all white”).

Unfortunately, what is desired to be a place of diversity often quickly becomes a place of tokenism in which a people’s diverse phenotypical presence is valued but the gifts of their culture, individual life, and experiences are not.

My hope is that NEXT Church can be something different. NEXT Church has core values grounded in relationship and authenticity. So, yes we have a hope of 50% + of people of color in our leadership teams, but it only makes sense to me because I know it comes out of a hope for drastic systemic change in who is at the leadership tables.

And while this goal may seem to minimize the intersectionality of diversity, I think we wanted some goal to hold us racially accountable for the leadership relationships we cultivate.

At its core, NEXT Church believes that in real relationship, significant transformational changes in how we live life together are possible.

I have watched us be stretched, struggle, and be blessed by our way: being community which is grounded in real experiences of life together. In both joy and hurt, we are made more faithful and more just.

It’s not that we get it right but that we lean in when it’s hardest that excites me about NEXT Church. I have noticed that when I expose my heart to the other, I experience the grace and challenge of my identity in Christian community and I sense others do too.

I think that in our work together we see that being the kind of community that is open to hear the impact of racism on our life together and then prayerfully discern how to respond in our actions towards healing is a treasure and a sign of the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit. And I sense this is true because we are committed to being vulnerable with each other. We have a level of trust because of our desire for real relationship.

And what seems to be a Holy Spirit gift of unbelievable proportion is that this is a common thread of those engaging NEXT Church at every level. And while I know we are all in different places in how we articulate the role of racism in being a sinful barrier to faithful relationship with the other, when I connect with new friends through NEXT Church, I get this overwhelming sense that this person has the intent to build up – and not tear down – the body Christ and the global community at large.

I discern that in our racialized and polarizing times our type of commitment to relationship at NEXT Church is radical work. It is radical because by being in real relationship, we are naturally cultivating organized, faithful, theologically grounded work for the healing of the person-to-person and systemic impacts of racism.

So Lori, what do you think?

LORI: Your thoughts, Shavon, make me question what it really means to belong at NEXT Church.

NEXT Church believes God is always calling the Church into the future. Cultivating leaders and congregations by equipping and connecting them to one another will strengthen the relational fabric of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and promote God’s transformation of our communities for the common good.

Belonging is easy to talk about, but hard to do. So hard in fact, it’s biblical. Which of course as people “in the people business,” we all know but hate to admit.  The 2017 National Gathering hosted about 600 leaders. For 220 of them, it was their first time at a NEXT Church Gathering. Every year we host an orientation conversation about NEXT Church. This year I remember mentioning that NEXT Church hopes to express the Kingdom of God to the world in an honest way that reflects the creativity and diversity of that Kingdom. Easy to say. Hard to do. As Shavon mentions, it requires deep trust, a willingness to give one another the benefit of the doubt, and an openness to listening. The National Gathering sets the tone for this work, with an expectation that we must then act in the world in a way that is congruent with what we proclaim together about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

During orientation we also mentioned that our National Gathering is designed as a bountiful feast, not a prix fixe 5-course meal. Were there parts of the Gathering that did not resonate with me personally? YEP. Am I grateful for the good people that gave of their time and gifts in leadership? YEP. Was I challenged and inspired? Absolutely.

Some folks have a hard time believing it, but NEXT Church has a seat at the table for every leader in our denomination. We are not a club. We do not take sides. We try desperately not to be exclusionary. The tables throughout our gathering space in Kansas City reflected these claims. If you will sit at the table and engage, then you are encouraged to speak up and share your gifts for the greater good of our denomination. The workshops were meant to reflect this claim.

And yet serious questions about belonging were raised during the National Gathering: Can I trust NEXT Church will welcome my unique perspective for what it is? Can I trust that NEXT Church will not be yet another organization unwilling to recognize the marginalization of women, LGBTQ leaders, and leaders who do not identify as white? How is NEXT Church reconciling institutional habits of exclusion and racism and avoiding the appropriation of cultural expressions of faith? How can I trust NEXT Church honestly values my conservative understanding of theology? Do they really care about what I have to say as a part time or non-traditional pastor? A traditional large steeple pastor? A seminarian? A leader in the last years of ministry? An educator? A ruling elder?

It makes sense that some are skeptical of the claim that there is a seat for everyone at NEXT Church, especially when personal experiences may inform a necessary level of self protection. But there is a seat. To be clear, we do not always agree, we do not always get it right, and we do not claim to be experts at the work of radical belonging. But together, we are trying. The National Gathering in Kansas City was a celebration of unity, not sameness. We commit to having the hard conversations, taking risks, and holding ourselves accountable. We also practice the art of giving one another the benefit of the doubt with grace and trust.

Most days I am simply trying to remain faithful to the people I serve. Between sermons, teaching, hospital visits, budgets, meetings, and parenting, I get tired. Bone tired. In the midst of a tenuous American culture, sometimes I doubt my ability to proclaim the Gospel with integrity and boldness. It gets isolating. So yeah, I need community. I need colleagues and friends to keep me honest and focused, but NEXT Church is about more than friendships.  If we are interested in collecting our voices and harnessing the power of Christ’s Church for God’s Kingdom, then our gathering space cannot be an echo chamber. What would it look like for the PCUSA to express the Kingdom of Heaven to the world in an authentic way that embraces and celebrates our diversity?

Seriously. Think about that for a minute.

We cannot afford to waste time bickering or managing our losses when there is a surplus of committed, diverse, and creative leaders, each worthy of investment. Also, we must not wait for support structures and institutions to catch up. Christ is alive in the world, NOW. While in humility, we claim the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ when we missed the mark. With all hope, you were inspired, challenged, engaged, and nourished by those you found in your midst. Having learned and grown together, we will step boldly into the future again next year with commitment, passion, and a renewed sense of faith.


Shavon Starling-Louis is pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Providence, RI. Lori Raible is co-pastor of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. Both are co-chairs of the NEXT Church executive team.

Accepting the Invitation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Brandon Frick is curating a series about the Sarasota Statement, a new confessional statement in response to the current state of the church and world. The series will feature insights from the writers and conveners of the group. What are your thoughts on the Statement? How might you use it in your context? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Glen Bell

During January, six servant leaders gathered in Sarasota, Florida, to begin to write a statement of faith. Katie Baker, Chris Currie, Brandon Frick, Bertram Johnson, Cindy Rigby, and Layton Williams came together to explore and proclaim what our Christian faith demands to in this moment of national difficult and discord. Jessica Tate, Robert Hay, and I hosted the gathering.

Did we all know one another? No.

Were we similar theologically, politically, personally? No.

Was travel easy? No.

Was the goal a bit daunting? Yes.

The process was filled with the yin and yang of dynamic discussion, replete with push and tug. There was a moment or two when some of us suspected we may not be able to finish. But it turned out to be a joyful, transformative experience of God-given connection with one another.

We have become convinced that stating our faith is NOT a task only for carefully-selected groups, empowered by a General Assembly. We believe that Presbyterians and Christians both within and across congregations are called to gather to discern and state God’s call for us.

We must proclaim our faith, not only in the familiar words we have received, but in our word  for our time.

There is something special about the Sarasota Statement – and also nothing special about it at all. It represents the heartfelt poetry and prose of six faithful servants, determined to answer God’s call. But most importantly perhaps, it points beyond itself, inviting and challenging all of us to do the same, in our place, in our time, right here and now.

Will we accept the invitation? A gathering of youth or adults in a congregation might study the Presbyterian confessions and then craft their own statement of faith. Three neighboring congregations could come together one evening to name and confess the most pertinent parts of our Christian tradition.

May God give us the strength and determination to reflect on our faith and to name and claim it anew!


Glen Bell is head pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota, Florida, and serves on the NEXT Church strategy team.

2017 National Gathering Keynote: Soong-Chan Rah

Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL, presents a keynote at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering entitled: “The Changing Face of the Church.”


Soong-Chan Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL and the author of The Next EvangelicalismMany ColorsProphetic Lament; co-author of Forgive Us; and Return to Justice.

Soong-Chan is formerly the founding Senior Pastor of Cambridge Community Fellowship Church (CCFC), a multi-ethnic church living out the values of racial reconciliation and social justice in the urban context. He currently serves on the board of World Vision and Evangelicals 4 Justice. He has previously served on the board of Sojourners and the Christian Community Development Association.

Soong-Chan received his B.A. from Columbia University; his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; his Th.M. from Harvard University; his D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and his Th.D. from Duke University.

Soong-Chan and his wife Sue and their two children, Annah and Elijah live in Chicago.

A Repairer of the Breach

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by LeAnn Hodges

“We want to have our child baptized,” a visitor said to me after worship one Sunday. He held his son in his arms, and his wife stood back, looking a bit uncertain. “Well,” I responded, “how about we find a time to meet and see if this is the church you would like to join, and then we can go from there?” At that point, the wife chimed in that she would meet with me, but that she wasn’t sure she would join this church… or any church, for that matter.

leann-fontIn the coming days I met with the young couple and listened to their story. They were both from the same African country, but the wife was brought here at a young age through what her family thought was a chance for a western education. But it turned out to be a ticket into slavery in the metro-DC area. She was held captive until her late teens, when she was liberated by the help of a lesbian couple.

Given what she had experienced, it was no wonder that she hesitated when she stepped over the threshold into the church. The miracle is that she was able to set foot in a church at all!

In her upbringing the church was expected to be a safe space, and yet the church had provided a source of legitimacy for those who had forced her into slavery. In her upbringing, same-gender love was considered an unspeakable evil, and yet a same-gender couple became the agent of her liberation.

Over time, she watched as the congregation embraced her son with love and affection. She began to share her story with other members from the same region of Africa who had no idea of the scale of human trafficking that originated in their home region. And she shared her story with those who grew up in the metro-DC area who had no idea of the scale of human trafficking that enslaved people from all over the world here, in our own back yard.

In many ways, this incredible child of God has become a “repairer of the breach” in our congregation. She has opened our eyes to our own complicity in an unjust system that capitalizes on the abuse of human lives. This is no longer someone else’s problem. And through her powerful and gracious way of being, she has invited us into deeper conversation about what it means to be a congregation of uncommon diversity where African and gay sit at Christ’s table together.

We are a congregation that is all over the place in how we view the world, and how we understand the meaning of discipleship. Our individual moral absolutes are often at odds with the person in the next row on a Sunday morning. And yet, through the witness of this unlikely saint, some of those invisible walls that divide us have begun to crumble. The creation of safe space where we are able to testify to God’s work in our lives has confronted our easy assumptions of “the other” and required us to do the much more difficult and life-giving work of holy community.


leann-hodgesLeAnn Hodges is the pastor of Oaklands Presbyterian Church in Laurel, MD. As a pastor, her favorite part of her job is hanging out with people, learning their stories, and if possible getting in a good belly laugh at least once a day. And from those stories, she learns more and more about the depth of God’s love made known in Jesus Christ. In her free time… oh, wait… LeAnn has three sons, ages 12, 6, and 4… but when she used to have free time, she enjoyed gardening, knitting, reading mysteries, and watching sci-fi shows with her husband of 22 years (who happens to be a high school physics teacher). 

2016 National Gathering Ignite: Danita Nelson

Danita Nelson of New Covenant Fellowship of Austin shares about their intentional, multi-national, multi-racial, intergenerational community.

Contemplation and Social Justice

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

In case you have missed any, here is a master list of  this month’s posts exploring contemplation and social Justice:

Blog curator Therese Taylor-Stinson introduces this month’s topic in “Contemplation and Social Justice: A Month of Blogging by Members of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd.”

photo credit: DSC_0082 via photopin (license)

photo credit: DSC_0082 via photopin (license)

Second, Leslye Colvin shares a reflection on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in “A Clearer Image: Two at a Well.”

Next, Cynthia Bailey Manns explores the challenge of engaging in meaningful discussions about race, faith, and politics in a two-part post, “Reluctant Companions.” You can read part I here, and part II here.

In “Embracing Diversity,” Therese Taylor-Stinson reflects on Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman’s keynote at the 2015 NEXT Church National Gathering in Chicago.

In Jesus Stripped of His Clothing, Leslye Colvin provides a thoughtful Good Friday Reflection on Racism.

Vikki Montgomery compares the contemplative work of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement with Desmond Tutu’s work to end Apartheid in her post Silence Before Protest.

Rosalie E. Norman-McNaney writes about the importance of breath in her spiritual direction sessions and the violence directed against young black men like Freddie Gray in her post Breathe on Me Lord; I Can’t Breathe.

Elizabeth Leung reflects on Thomas Merton in Racism: A Culture of Malformation.

In For What Shall I Pray?, Martha L. Wharton shares a heart-wrenching prayer on behalf of Baltimore mothers.

Vikki Montgomery reviews Krista Tippet’s On Being Interview with Pico Iyer in Out of Stillness and Silence.

Finally, Lerita Coleman Brown and Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks provide a four part series about Intersectionality. You can read part 1, 2, 3, and 4 here.

Embracing Diversity

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Therese Taylor-Stinson

At the annual gathering of NEXT Church in Chicago this year, Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman gave a keynote on diversity.  Its thesis caught me by surprise!

Diversity was not framed in the familiar words of inclusion and tolerance and “Kum-ba-ya,” but in relation to the shocking discovery that diversity is messy.  Using the research of social scientist Robert Putnam, we heard such statements as:

Diversity corrodes trust and organization.

Diversity without authentic inclusion can be harmful.

Robert Putnam’s research on “The Downside of Diversity” shows that, when diversity increases, trust levels decrease initially between groups and within groups.

In diverse communities, when people have the time and resources to make a difference, they do nothing.

According to Michael Jonas’ Boston Globe article of August 2007, even Robert Putnam was disturbed by his findings but could not deny their correlation to civic engagement. There is evidence, however, that though diversity corrodes community in civic matters, it increases creativity and productivity in the workplace, where differing views and perspectives, when included, result in greater innovation and adaptivity.

The positive findings in the workplace leads to another conclusion presented by Jana and Freeman:

People will only participate in that which they help to create.

Thus, I believe Putnam’s findings on diversity in civic life, combined with the findings on the effects of diversity in the workplace, are indeed an invitation. We are invited not to just embrace the truth of the initial mess of diversity in community but also to keep going!  It is indeed an invitation that is worth the mess.  Expecting the messiness should inspire us to keep going and not default to business as usual.

Putnam’s research was conducted in situations of ‘real’ diversity, when divergent ideas, cultures, lifestyles, ethnicities, values, and the like are authentically allowed to co-exist in the same place; not ‘token’ diversity, where everyone has either the same views, background, and or culture, or there is a set of rules to prohibit divergent or conflicting beliefs.  A Rwandan proverb states, “If you can’t hear a mouth chewing, you cannot hear a mouth crying.”  That means we must power through the mess in order to find empathy and compassion for the suffering of others.  The empathy and compassion then leads to authentic inclusion of differing values and ideas, and to the birth of a creative and innovative community.

Real diversity can initially blind us to the ways in which our differences can make us stronger. Thus, we must have the fortitude to push past the messiness of our tribal leanings.  This is where contemplation comes in—to raise our self-awareness and then our awareness of the other.

Brian McDermott, in his keynote presentation at the Spiritual Directors International Educational Event in Louisville, Kentucky, referred to “contemplation in action” [emphasis mine].  That small word “in” as opposed to the usual “and” makes a great difference because it speaks of contemplation indwelling the action taken, not separate from it.  Thus, I wrote in my notes:

We are both connected and separate.  We dwell in both, but we are not meant to stay in either. Separateness allows us to become aware and deepen; then, we are called to remain in that deepened place as we enter the connectedness of the universe.

The dilemma is to know when to remain separate and aware of oneself and when to integrate that more deepened self with the flow and connectedness of the universe. Contemplation calls us to awareness and connectedness, to use the deepening of our separate self to cultivate compassion for our differences in community.  When we acknowledge our experiences and the experiences of the other and come together with creativity to find where our differences merge to create something new and innovative, we overcome the initial messiness of diversity and become a productive human community committed to the rights, the needs, and concerns of all.  We become the human race rather than a socially constructed list of groups with whom we compete for superiority.

I have often contemplated the act of breathing because, as a child with asthma, I sometimes struggled to breathe.  As an adult who had acquired the habit of shallow breathing, I participated in a 6-week workshop to learn how to breathe deeply.  As I thought about the involuntariness of breathing and its power to regulate the body, I pondered on our dependence on the breath to live. Without the breath, we cannot live; without oxygen, the act of breathing is fatal.  This is not just true for humans but for all animal life:  We breathe in and out every minute of our lives, sharing the air as humans and with all other forms of animal life—without conflict.

Thomas Merton wrote, “We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone—we find it with another.”  Contemplation quiets the mind so that we can hear from a deeper place, and it is deeply healing of trauma—even generations of trauma.  From that place, there are four actions we must take to truly experience the life-giving aspects of diversity:

  • Healing the trauma that stems from the messiness of equal diversity not allowed.
  • Reconciling differences through love and confession.
  • Increasing the awareness of privilege and how it perpetuates the oppression of others.
  • Dismantling destructive systems that support privilege and deny equal rights to all.

I think it was Brian McDermott who said, “God doesn’t change the condition of a people until they change the condition of their hearts.”  We are called to move from noticing something to letting it affect us and the world around us.  That is contemplation in action.

Wendell Berry expresses it well:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, 

and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have come to our real journey. 

The mind that is not baffled is not employed. 

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Let it be so!


Theres Taylor-StinsonTherese Taylor-Stinson is an ordained deacon and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church and is currently serving as Vice Moderator of the National Capital Presbytery.  She is a member of the Shalem Society for Contemplative Leadership, and she has served on Shalem’s Board of Directors, and Marketing and Communications Committee.  Therese is the Managing Member of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd., and maintains a private spiritual direction practice.  She is also a co-editor and contributing author of the groundbreaking anthology Embodied Spirits:  Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color, released in March 2014.

Reluctant Companions—Part I

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Cynthia Bailey Manns

Faith, Race, and Politics…. Each word alone can cause one to hesitate to enter into conversation with another. Yet, we are all accompanying each other on this journey we call life. How do we live “The Golden Rule” of treating others as we wish to be treated as we engage in sacred, non-polarizing conversations that must to be had to continue to evolve as a society?

About a month ago, I felt myself becoming discouraged with the continual negative, antagonistic discourse, from all sides, regarding these topics. I know my responses are viewed through the lenses of my life experiences and theology. I am an African American woman with a Caucasian great-great-great grandfather. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s when societal change was creating excitement and fear simultaneously. Since my father was in the Army, I lived throughout the United States and Germany. I was frequently the only little black girl in my classes at school on the Army bases, yet, when I visited my grandparents in Alabama, things were quite different. We couldn’t try on clothes at certain stores, couldn’t eat in certain restaurants, had to drink from the “colored” water fountains and go up the back stairs of the movie theatre to sit in the balcony with the other “colored” people. Living in both realms of reality, segregation and integration, I knew discrimination was unjust because I had experienced freedom. Grounding my intense discontent with inequality was my unwavering knowing that God did not mean for some people to be treated so badly and others not.

Today we are still struggling with the intersection of these concepts–Faith, Race, and Politics. The U.S. continues to grow more ethnically, racially, and spiritually diverse. The Pew Research Center estimates that the Millennial Generation (18-33) is unattached to organized politics and religion, and is America’s most racially diverse generation. In T.D. Jake’s Huffington Post blog, he reminds us that, in the coming decade, one third of the 73 million people on the planet will identify as Christians, and due to this explosive growth occurring predominately in Africa and Europe, the next millennium Christian will be increasing non-white. By 2050, our racial categories will continue to dismantle as racial intermarriage increases, and by 2060, the changing face of America will be 43 percent white, 13 percent black, 31 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian, and 6 percent other. Finally, the Pew Research Center informs us that partisan animosity continues to increase with political parties viewing the others as a “threat to the nation’s well-being.”

So, how do we encourage dialogue and action around these topics? Might I suggest we begin with self? I recognize I need to be more contemplative about my response to the turbulent discourse. In her book Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill describes the work of contemplation as “the gradual development of an extraordinary faculty of concentration, a power of spiritual attention.” How do I engage “spiritual attention” to ensure God is present in me in my words and actions with others? How do I engage “special attention” so I can encounter the Christ who is present in the other, in me, and all our surroundings?

Until Reluctant Companions—Part II, ponder these words….

“Everything we think, say, and do is prayer.”  (Neale Donald Walsh)

“I think when push comes to shove people need to remember that, underneath all the pain, hurt, anger, pride, and lies, we are all the same. Human.” (Aimee)

“I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you.” (Anthony Bourdain)


 

Cynthia Bailey MannsCynthia Bailey Manns, M.A., currently serves as a spiritual director and educator. Her ministry also includes workshop and retreat facilitation. Cynthia is currently completing her Doctorate of Ministry in Spiritual Direction.

 

 

Contemplation and Social Justice: A Month of Blogging by Members of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd.

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Therese Taylor-Stinson

“We are both connected and separate. We dwell in both, but we are not meant to stay in either. Separateness allows us to become aware and deepen; then, we are called to remain in that deepened place as we enter the connectedness of the universe.

The dilemma is to know when to remain separate and aware of oneself and when to integrate that more deepened self with the flow and connectedness of the universe.”

As I ponder the thoughts I wrote above at a recent Spiritual Directors International Educational Event in Louisville, Kentucky, and recently incorporated those thoughts into a coming blog post for this month, I think about how the truth of this statement lives in the Spiritual Directors of Color Network. In some ways, our Network has separated from the larger group of contemplatives in order to share our common experience more deeply and arise more awakened and aware of who we are and what our contributions to the larger contemplative community are. Then, in that more deepened and awakened state, we are called into the Oneness of the Universe.

Hopefully, the series of blog posts you will read over the month of June from spiritual directors of color will pull you aside, whatever your differences, for a little deepening and awareness on the theme of “Contemplation and Social Justice.” Though we are people of color, you will also witness the diversity of our group in our approaches, writing styles, experiences, thoughts, cultures, and passions around this theme.

At the annual Gerald May Seminar, hosted by the Shalem Institute, Jack Finley, psychologist, author, mystic, and former monk, defined contemplation as paying attention, “to reflect on one’s awareness of the present moment.” He also stated that “The mystic is known by the quality of their empathy, integrity, by the authenticity of your presence with each. … You cannot express the beauty of yourself and hide at the same time.” With that in mind, the members of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, in cooperation with NEXT Church, will attempt to apply a balm on the trauma of racism and other acts of injustice, to separate ourselves from spiritual disease, which would render us powerless, so that perhaps one day we can enter into God’s dream of Oneness that manifests itself in diverse forms to sustain the life of the whole. Our articles will post on the NEXT blog on the even days throughout the month of June—one day to read and another to reflect.

We are not hiding. We are grieved but hopeful. We want to express the beauty of ourselves in ways that are healing. We are attempting to do the work that is necessary to be true to our calling as spiritual directors–to listen, to ask questions, to pray deeply, and to be an instrument for healing, for change, and for true unity with all its diversity in our broken world.

Enjoy!

Peace be with you,


Therese TSTherese Taylor Stinson is this month’s curator and a Managing Member of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd.

Racial Justice, Contemplation, and the Next Church

By Therese Taylor-Stinson

Harriet Tubman said, “I freed a thousand slaves; I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Her words are still true. Without trivializing the atrocity that slavery was to our ancestors, too many of us today have a false sense of freedom and equality in a country that was founded on white supremacy.

Today’s perpetrators, supporters, and beneficiaries of slavery, colonialism, and oppression suffer from the spiritual disease of racism, whose system enslaves even them and is a web of denial and separation. People who claim that they don’t see color deny their own experience and the experience of those who suffer the effects of racism. That denial prevents true freedom and the dismantling of racist systems that may not be the legalized slavery of history, but mirror those realities today in laws and a culture of white privilege.

For the 21st-century Church, which has always held that contemplation comprises method and inspiration, call and response, our deepest response in God to a suffering world, including the violence and injustice that results from privilege, should come through prayer and responsive acts of love. Frederick Douglass wrote, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and it never will.” The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted [emphasis mine], shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Slavery was not abolished, however, by this amendment, but reconstituted to the penal system, where it remains today.

During Reconstruction (1865-1877), Black men were elected to Congress and to state legislatures. However, after Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws were instituted in the South. I believe we are witnessing something similar today. Several states have passed laws or attempted to pass laws that require voter identification requirements. In 2013, the Supreme Court weakened protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by deciding that “Preclearance laws for southern states with a history of voter discrimination are unconstitutional.” Lynching is not as prominent, but has happened in some form on occasion in our time, such as the murder in 1998 of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas, after he was dragged behind a pickup truck for 3 miles. The militarization of the police, particularly in disadvantaged communities, heavily populated by people of color, has become prevalent, and states such as Florida have “Stand Your Ground” laws that endanger young black lives such as that of Trayvon Martin’s. The number of black men incarcerated, relegating them to the penal system, particularly for relatively non-violent crime, as well those targeted by police profiling, are grossly disproportionate to the number of white males committing the same crimes.

One of my past colleagues with whom I served in the federal government, a white man, told me that he was not surprised by the resurgence of racism since Obama took office. He observed that civil rights laws had suppressed racist practices but had not ended racism or racist attitudes, and thus, with a black President, racist attitudes that had been suppressed have resurfaced.

Racism is therefore America’s shadow. It is a spiritual disease, operating to maintain white privilege through cognitive dissonance.

Psychologist Leon Festinger wrote, “…cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.” Our civil rights laws establish equality without regard to race, gender, age, religion, sexual preference, or ability. Yet, when black people go out into the world, they are immediately challenged to make sense of their lived experience, which is contrary to the laws established to protect them.

Racism affects every area of life: Education, economics, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion, sex, and war. In defining racism during the height of racial tension in the U.S. during the 1960s and ‘70s, Frances C. Welsing, a Washington DC psychiatrist stated, “Racism is a system of advantage based upon race. It doesn’t mean hating or not liking a race. It is White Supremacy.”

Romal Tune is a United Methodist minister. He left the gang life to graduate from college and receive a Master of Divinity degree from Duke University. He is the author of God’s Graffiti, and upon hearing about the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, he wrote:

“What most people don’t understand about poor black males on the inner-city streets, I can tell you now, they will not stay off the streets tonight, but it’s not just because they are angry and tired of mistreatment by police. It’s because they are tired of being ignored. Because of this tragic incident, the media has shown up and cameras are rolling. The world is watching! Brothers in the hood finally get noticed. The same brothers who were on the street before the shooting and nobody gave a damn.”

This is cognitive dissonance, where young men live invisible lives to a great extent, except when they break the law. In Ferguson, the young men had a chance to be seen for a good cause, yet were still treated as unwanted and unproductive agitators. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” These young men began rioting, looting, and burning property in their own neighborhoods because the need to be heard in a righteous act of protest, a civil right protected by the law, was met with rejection—cognitive dissonance.

Racism can only be healed from within, through contemplation. Both victims and perpetrators can be healed from the effects of white supremacy and racism. Contemplation is a willingness to be immediately awake to the present as it is—to us, to others, and to a Divine, Life-giving Presence that is always available to us. If racism is recognized as a spiritual disease, a person of contemplation engages both reflection and response. As I heed the words of the desert Ammas and Abbas to “pay attention,” I see people of color disparaged in the U.S. and massacred in Nigeria, while the dominant culture deplored the tragic deaths of fourteen in Paris. When Ebola swept West Africa, I see our concern was overwhelmingly for the Americans affected.

Contemplation is pure, existing before archetypes, and is the essence from which everything else flows. Contemplation needs both method (the pathway) and action (the sacrifice), which dwells within its tradition, to be authentic and effective in overcoming the spiritual diseases of white privilege and racism. The NEXT church, the church of the 21st century, should proclaim with one voice that Black lives do matter, as fully as the lives of all others. Let the healing begin!

Amen.


Theres Taylor-StinsonTherese Taylor-Stinson is current Vice Moderator for National Capital Presbytery.  She is a spiritual director and Managing Member of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network.