Posts

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.

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.