Friday, February 20, 2015

Why Anti-Racism?

This is a paper that I wrote back in September 2014 to address why it's important to do Anti-Racism Training (or teaching) and to use the term "Anti-Racism" to describe such teaching. I'm posting it now in light of a current conversation that is happening on Facebook about Anti-Racism Training.

I’m someone who has been doing Anti-Racism training for the Episcopal Church since 2006. I’ve also led Train the Trainer workshops. Along the way, I’ve developed an 8-hour basic Anti-Racism Training and 8-hour Train the Trainer workshop, which I’ve been invited to tailor and conduct in many dioceses over the years.

One of the questions that is frequently asked before and during the trainings is why we still use the term “Anti-Racism” when there are so many other terms that are “friendlier” and “more inviting” to participants. Examples include “Diversity,” “Multicultural,” “Intercultural,” “Dismantling Racism,” and “Racial Justice.”

So, why the term “Anti-Racism”?

The answer is, because racism is a sin, as the House of Bishops taught in their March, 1994, Pastoral Letter. That Pastoral Letter was a teaching that included analysis, confession, covenant, and invitation to the church to join the bishops in those actions. If you haven’t read the Pastoral Letter recently, please read it, because it is an important teaching.

A historical lesson in why naming the actual sin is important lies in the anti-rape movement, which took shape in the 1960s and early 1970s as a dynamic of the women’s movement. When feminists began to name rape as a crime of violence rather than allowing it to continue to be described as a crime of sexual passion, and when feminists began to insist on using the word “rape” rather than using alternative or euphemistic language that describes rape as “sexual assault” or the generic “violence against women,” society’s response to rape began to change. Obviously, we still have a long way to go, when you consider that rape on college campuses is not handled well by college administrators and that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits nationwide. However, naming rape as rape has freed many rape victims from the unfair shaming and scapegoating of earlier times.

“Anti-“ as a modifier to “Racism” means “to interrupt.” When we use the term “Anti-Racism,” we are saying “to interrupt Racism.” We are saying, “to interrupt the Sin of Racism,” because as the church, we are in the business of interrupting all manner of sin so that people can be restored to unity with God and each other in Christ. That’s the mission of the church. The Catechism in our Book of Common Prayer says so.

What’s so wrong with those other, friendlier terms?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with terms such as “Diversity,” “Multicultural,” “Intercultural,” “Dismantling Racism,” and “Racial Justice.” They just don’t mean what “Anti-Racism” means. They don’t point us to interrupting the Sin of Racism.

Diversity training generally encompasses teaching people to recognize and acknowledge that different people are, well, different. But Diversity training generally doesn’t get into teaching how prejudice and power together create racism and how racism and White Privilege together create systems of institutionalized and structural racism that are extremely difficult to dismantle. Anti-Racism Training does.

Multicultural training generally takes Diversity training deeper, by encouraging participants to learn about cultures different than their own. Intercultural training takes Multicultural training still deeper, by having participants interact with people from cultures different than their own so that they have first-hand experience of those people from other cultures. Again, both Multicultural training and Intercultural training generally don’t teach about how racism results from not only prejudice, but also from the presence of power differentials, and how institutional and structural racism cause disproportionate disadvantages to People of Color in everything from public education to employment to voting rights to mass incarceration.

Dismantling Racism generally focuses more on institutional and structural racism than it does on the racism of individuals. It is very important to teach about institutional and structural racism, because they so disproportionately disadvantage large groups of People of Color in highly life disrupting ways. But it is also important to focus on the responsibility of the individual to analyze his or her own sin of racism, to admit and confess that sin, and to covenant to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being, which includes becoming an Anti-Racist.

Racial Justice is a wonderful term, because it is aspirational and most appropriately should be used to title committees and commissions that do the work of Anti-Racism. But, the work, such as is done in trainings, is not merely aspirational. The work is also pragmatic, comprised of analysis, confession, and covenant.

If we were to choose a different, yet familiar title, for Anti-Racism training, how about “Safeguarding God’s People from Racism”? That title says that there is some action that must be taken to safeguard God’s People, in this case, from racism. However, that title also implies that the participants in the training are somehow the “good guys” who don’t have to acknowledge their own sin of racism. So, maybe we won’t go with this familiar title, after all. Because the work of anti-racism is the work of everyone in the church.

Why do Anti-Racism training?

What we, the church, do is proclamation. We proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. The Good News is that our reward is in the Lord, that by grace and by the blood of Jesus Christ dying on the hard wood of the cross, we are saved for eternity.

Now, pause for a moment, and reflect.

We proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ, and that Good News includes the story of Jesus’ very painful and very human death upon the cross, which was necessary to redeem humankind from our sins.

When we do Anti-Racism training, it is proclamation. We are proclaiming that when we acknowledge and confess our sin of racism and turn away from continuing to behave in racist ways, we restore ourselves to unity with God and each other in Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”[John 14:6 NRSV] Jesus said, “Follow me.”[Mark 1:17 NRSV] Jesus never said, “It will be easy.” Analysis, confession, and covenant, if done faithfully with intention and honesty, are hard work. Actively participating in Anti-Racism training is hard work. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[John 13:34-35 NRSV]

Anti-Racism training is not designed to be confrontational with the trainer or other participants. What is confronted is the sin of racism in yourself and in society. Just as we expect civil dialog in church whether it’s at worship, congregational functions, or committee meetings, we also expect civil dialog in Anti-Racism training. But, remember, Anti-Racism training is hard work, and it is work that is worth doing. It is also work that requires refreshing in the same way that we refresh ourselves, our confession, and our covenant with God through worship on a regular, repeated basis.

We want people to take Anti-Racism training. We want people to value Anti-Racism training as something that will provide a component of Christian formation for them that they are not getting in other formation education. We want people to come to Anti-Racism training cheerfully and not grudgingly because there is some church canon or decree from their bishop that they have to check this box or miss out on some needed certification. We want people to come to Anti-Racism training because learning how to overcome the sin of racism will enable us to love one another as Jesus loves each one of us.

In March 2006, the House of Bishops issued another pastoral letter titled “The Sin of Racism: A Call to Covenant,” which recommitted the bishops, and invited the church, to covenant with the bishops on eleven actions personally, corporately, and globally. After you’ve read or re-read the first Pastoral Letter, be sure to read this one, too.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Our Role as Christians

Our role as Christians has never been to tell people that they are sinners and to repent and be saved. That's a narrative that is narrow and false. It is paternalistic and judgmental, claiming what belongs to God – judgment – for ourselves. It's a Baal golden calf moment.

The arrival of Jesus Christ changed that narrative to a new one of grace and gratitude. We are called as Children of God. Our role is to be the Beloved Children, depending on God for our everything, and loving our brothers and sisters because they have been created by the God of Love, just like us.

Our role as Christians is to share the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. God’s grace is so overwhelmingly great that it overcomes us, and we sometimes falter in our response. God invites us to share grace in the form of lovingkindness with everyone we encounter, especially those in any kind of need or trouble, both the physical needs like living in poverty or illness and the emotional, psychological, spiritual troubles like doubt, fear, and existential loneliness.

God has invited us to a heavenly banquet right here on earth, to join other members of Creation to share in the delights of light and life. It's a really cool banquet, because even as guests, we are encouraged to bring additional guests. Imagine that! We get to bring other people to share in the deliciousness of the heavenly banquet here on earth!

Our Creator is so unbelievably creative that s/he leads people from all over her/his creation to find her/him in ways that extend beyond our human comprehension. When someone finds the Creator in another language or religious system, that points out two things: (1) we are created with different cultures that arrive at different understandings of the Creator and Creation, and (2) our human shortcomings reflected in our inability to talk about God in understandable ways with each other. But God the Creator is cool with that. God is mighty enough to comprehend and apprehend everything, and we, individually, in our present condition and circumstances, are called to come into the banquet.

Something worth striving for is to walk in the light of Christ. Sure, we take detours and stop for a while, but the light of Christ is always in front of us if we just choose to lift up our eyes and spirits to see him. I love the image of a wet dog that shakes itself to begin the drying off process. We humans can take a lesson from that wet dog and shake ourselves after we’ve stumbled into the puddle, to begin walking in the light again.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Prayers of the People

I was honored and privileged to share Prayers of the People for the Eucharist on Sunday at the Episcopal Church's Executive Council meeting. I had written these originally for use at the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries 40th anniversary celebration in June, 2013, in San Francisco.

With our hearts and hands reaching out to lift up your beloved children, members of the blessed body of your son, our Savior, Jesus Christ,
Lord who Gathers, we pray to you, saying “Lord, hear our prayer.”

For all the people of the nations, that they may know you and show forth your love in their daily lives,
Lord who Shepherds, we pray to you, saying Lord, hear our prayer.

For all the members of your Church, that in our baptismal ministry of proclamation, discipleship, and servanthood, we may seek and serve Christ in all people and respect the dignity of every human being,
Lord who Anoints, we pray to you, saying Lord, hear our prayer.

For Katharine, our Presiding Bishop, and for all bishops, priests, and deacons, that they may be filled with your love, hunger for truth, and thirst after righteousness,
Lord who Consecrates, we pray to you, saying Lord, hear our prayer.

For our Missioners; for this Council and all church councils; and for all clergy and lay leaders and members; that we may be strengthened in our vocation and ministry, serving and leading boldly, with courage and conviction,
Lord who Calls, we pray to you, saying Lord, hear our prayer.

For our families and friends; for our enemies and those from whom we are separated; for those whose hearts, minds, and faith are known only to you; that they may be filled with your peace, and that our divisions may be healed,
Lord who Heals, we pray to you, saying Lord, hear our prayer.

For those in positions of public trust, especially Barack, our President, and all who serve in governance, law-making, law enforcement, the military, and the judiciary of all nations, that they may serve justice and peace with honesty and integrity, promoting life and liberty for all your people and creatures,
Lord who Proclaims, we pray to you, saying Lord, hear our prayer.

For a blessing on the labor of your beloved children, and for the right use and care of your creation, that the world may be released from poverty, hunger, and catastrophic disasters,
Lord who Blesses, we pray to you, saying Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who live in poverty, sickness, and suffering; for refugees and prisoners; for all who are in danger; that they may be relieved and protected,
Lord who Abides, we pray to you, saying Lord, hear our prayer.

For ourselves; for the forgiveness of our sins, known and unknown; and for the grace of the Holy Spirit to amend our lives,
Lord who Forgives, we pray to you, saying Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who have died in the communion of your Church, that they may have rest eternal in your loving arms, and know peace and release from suffering, grief, and pain,
Lord who Redeems, we pray to you, saying Lord, hear our prayer.

In the joyful and enduring company of all your saints, we commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life to you, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier,
Lord of Power and Grace, we pray to you, saying Lord, hear our prayer.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Blessings One by One

I am not a model mother or grandmother, or for that matter, a model wife or daughter. When it comes to the list of things that one is supposed to do and be as a model female relative, I have flunked big time. 

I don’t cook or bake particularly regularly, firing up the kitchen to make that perfect birthday or holiday meal that everyone eagerly anticipates.

I used to do Christmas with the tree, ornaments, and wrapped presents, but those years vanished long ago.

My kids and grandkids cannot look forward to a birthday card or present. Presents happen when I chance upon them in my travels.

My son and daughter-in-law are the attentive parents to our four grandsons. They do a great job being present everyday to those four boys and enriching their growing up years, at home, at school, and with friends.

My mother tends to home and hearth at our house, where she, my brother, my husband, and I make a multi-generational family unit. It gives Mom purpose and importance to be the center of a household once again in her elder years.

Model anything is nothing more than a bunch of stereotypes that harm and guilt people who are doing their best to find love, companionship, and good times in a challenging world full of challenging family situations. Let’s agree to stop counting what’s missing and begin counting what we are blessed to have.

I am writing to give thanks that I have a whole family, with many family members, who each do their part to make the family function. I feel badly that many people lack a family of their own. Sometimes, that’s all that someone needs, to be included in our families as family members of choice. To be chosen to be loved and embraced. Think about it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Still Angry and Looking Around

I try really hard not to be an angry person these days. 

I spent a lot of time as a young person being angry about a lot of things.

Civil rights and race relations, having grown up in the inner city of Detroit, where it was difficult being neither White nor Black. Latinos had not yet figured into the equation that far north in the 50’s and 60’s.

Women’s equality, which hit me hard as a smart teen girl and young woman in my 20’s trying to get taken seriously by employers.

The already begun assault on public education, which was my salvation from my refugee-immigrant family status, where we were diligently rescuing family members from the Communists.

But damn, it’s hard these days not to be angry when we seem to be on a very slippery slope, sliding backwards on the gains we achieved decades ago. A recent slogan seen on protestors’ signs asks, “Why am I still fighting this sh*t today?”

I think about the so-called racial minorities, now not so minor in numbers and growing, who are justifiably angry these days. My hope is that we channel that anger into some constructive social justice efforts.

We need to get educated and involved in the political process, locally, regionally, and nationally, even when the process is fraught with cronyism, racism, and bullying. I think we need to come together with other people who are like us and not like us, who are willing to be allies to fight for the same causes and candidates that we care about.

I think we need to put our money and our time where our hearts are, if not for ourselves, then for the generations that will follow us. The sacrifice is worth it, even if you don’t personally benefit. Numbers count, if for no other reason than to lift up the hopes of those who share our dreams.

We need to spread the word about the things that we find wrong with our communities and dialogue with others about how we can address those issues and find creative solutions together. Not every problem requires a new law. Sometimes the old laws just need to be enforced. Sometimes the community just needs to be in conversation and seek to find common ground.

But together - talking with one another, breaking bread together, writing letters, signing petitions, marching, and protesting together – is what we need to be doing. We must not let the powers of greed be used to divide us and refocus our attention away from the power of unity in fighting for justice, equality, and dignity for everyone.

If not us, then who? If not now, then when? I look around, and there's only you and me, my friend.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Posture of Prayer

It is a fine thing to think about, write about, and debate the ins and outs of theology - our understanding of the Creator and Creator's ways. It's a fine pastime, and it's even a fine vocation.

What I want to know is this: when and how do we move beyond the words and thoughts to the deeds and actions?

How do we transform our prayers into life in motion?

I think of prayer as being in communion with the divine, a sort of "talking with God." And I think of prayer more as a posture than as specific intention, although when I put words into prayer, that certainly does reflect specific intention.

There are traditional, classic words that we use in talking about the posture of prayer, like lifting up our hearts and pouring out our hearts. These words describe the characteristics of flowing movement in common, the unmeasured, continuous sweep from the depths of our hearts to an open-ended connection to the heavens and to the stream of humanity's needs.

Prayer, then, is about our deepest desires that seek to be satisfied and our unbroken connection to God who satisfies all needs.

In Christianity, our theology tells us that we are the hands and feet of Jesus. We are the earthly vessels and tools that embody the Creator's will for humankind. Creator sets the stage, and we are the actors.

We move about the stage, planting a field, serving a meal, patching a roof, sewing a wound, holding a child, embracing those who mourn.

Singing hymns of praise to the Creator and hymns of solidarity with the suffering and the joyful - something we have lost the habit of doing while moving about the stage of human existence - puts us into a posture of prayer, for the words serve to remind us when our motions have become rote and lost their connection to their deeper purpose.

I like the practice of the Buddhist monks who wear their 108 bead rosary (known as a mala) around their wrists and pray without ceasing as they go about their daily activities.

I strive to pray without ceasing as I go about my days, to keep one metaphorical foot in that liminal space that is connected to the divine even while the rest of my body and my intentions are grounded in the mundane.

Friday, August 29, 2014

General Convention Resolutions and How the Church Responds

For those in the Episcopal Church, there is a conversation going on right now at the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv about General Convention (GC) resolutions and how the church responds to them. I weighed in with the following post a little while ago:

As someone who has served on Executive Council and on our diocese’s General Convention deputation and Standing Committee, I’d like to share some thoughts about the subject of responding to GC, and by extension, Executive Council, resolutions.

The Joint Standing Committees of Council, along with other CCABs (Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards of GC) also receive referred GC resolutions for which we are expected to provide feedback. 

Even though the "requirement" is to "report to" Council on the status of referred GC resolutions, in my memory of now five years of service on Council, I do not recall ever seeing any such report(s). Some particularly conscientious CCABs do include commentary on those GC resolutions referred to them in their minutes, but not every CCAB submits minutes even though that is a required duty that is communicated in training and manuals.

Further, I'm not sure what Council would do with such reports if we saw them. The reality is that the work plans of most CCABs and staff departments, based on their specific mandates (which are shown on the GC Website under the CCABs’ tabs) and referred resolutions, are already in motion with not much excess capacity for following up on additional subjects, as we progress into each triennium.

Reality meets expectations, and reality always prevails, no matter how much we gnash our teeth, stamp our feet, or demonize those good people who don't meet our expectations.

There is an age-old quandary about the weight of GC resolutions and whether they are mandates, requirements, requests, or suggestions. I suspect that depends on a number of factors, including, most frequently, how much energy or importance a specific diocese or deputy has on a specific resolution or topic. Canonical requirements do get attention and compliance, because there are liability consequences for failure to comply, both to the diocese and to the churchwide organization, and there are administrative staff assigned to their oversight.

Most governance entities have a plethora of laws on the books that no one pays much attention to. That's a fact of life. Many of those laws are the brainchild and pet project of only one or a few legislators. It's really not that difficult to get seemingly innocuous laws passed in the wee hours of the legislative session when there is such a profusion of laws that garner interest, support, and controversy in every legislative session to take up the attention of the assembled legislators and their constituents. 

Everything is important to someone, but not everything is important to everyone. Just because something is law doesn’t automatically mean that it makes sense to the organism to comply either. Organisms have self-protection and survival instincts that trump machinations of its parts, no matter how vocal or strident.

Humankind has a long history of attempting to legislate morality and other people's behavior, but humans are also highly individualistic, egoistic, and contrary. Episcopalians certainly fall into the category of not liking to be told to do things and resisting anything that feels like they are being railroaded. 

Granted, GC and the way we do legislation are our established polity, but that doesn't mean there is any reality that Episcopalians across the church and church's governance believe in, endorse, support, or comply with the church's polity fully. As has been pointed out repeatedly, many church members simply don't have any interest in our polity and lack any awareness of the work of GC. That doesn’t make them bad Episcopalians or bad people. It makes them busy people and people with other interests and priorities. As St. Paul said, all the parts of the Body are needed and intrinsically connected, but not every part is needed to care about the same thing.

Responding to and enforcing legislation is the purview of the administrative branch of governance, whether it's states or dioceses, each with its own character and priorities. Each bishop and Standing Committee arrive at their own understanding of their duties and make choices of how to prioritize those duties. They also differ in the amount, expertise, and capacity of the resources available to them. It's unrealistic to expect a well-resourced, sophisticated diocese to respond in the same way as a more challenged, less-resourced diocese. It doesn't happen, and our expectations can be a harmful source of accusation and guilt. 

In my mind, there is a disconnect between what we say we want our church governance to be, and how we really want to relate to and with one another. The narrative around the concepts behind Episcopal Church polity are lofty and speak of shared governance by bishops, clergy, and laity. The reality is somewhat different, and, in my pragmatic mind, probably has to be for the following reason:  

Bishops and clergy have a vocation in the church that includes how humans understand the characteristics of a job or employment to be. Laity’s vocation in the church tends to be understood by most people at an emotional level as “in addition to” other vocations such as parenting or earning a living.

Although our narrative (and our Prayer Book) says that the first order of ministry is the Laity, the meta-narrative of society tells us something different. The reality is that we are all enculturated into society’s narrative before being baptized and enculturated into the Church’s narrative.

I’ll stop here with this lengthy post.