A Difficult But Joyful Task
Sara and I are taking this week off for a trip to Colorado, including some time with our son. And, as soon as I get back, I’ll be headed into the Carolinas for a couple of weeks. On Saturday, April 2, I’m going to host a day-long conversation at a farm near Lake Wylie, SC for those who want to explore what it means to ride the wind of the Spirit above the most distressing circumstances in our life. You can get more details about that and my other stops here. Also, watch for upcoming trips to Austin, TX, into the upper midwest, and possibly into New England.
Before I go, however, let me leave you with this…
Bob Prater, Arnita Taylor, and I, coauthors of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation, just completed another six-week workshop for a college trying to take a reasoned and compassionate approach to racism on campus. We help them explore the issues affecting their campus and what they can do to help remedy the legitimate concerns. I wish you could have heard the stories of a Palestinian mom who was delighted when her daughter had the white skin color of her American father, so she wouldn’t have to face the same judgments and insensitive comments she has faced. One young woman told of how her parents made her brother lay down on the car’s floorboard in certain situations because he took after the native American side of the family, while she didn’t have to because she looked white. Regretfully, skin tone influences how people are perceived.
I know some of you have not appreciated some of my postings on the racial divide. I hear from a few of you. Some have called me a Marxist (I’m clearly not), others a leftist (nope, not that either), or that I think most police are corrupt (again, not true) simply because I express a concern for the racial inequities that still exist in our culture. Two years ago, our society was primed to have a healing conversation about race after George Floyd’s murder. Unfortunately, our political realities made a constructive dialogue impossible for the broader culture. People only hardened into their previously held perspectives. Admittedly, it is a difficult discussion to have since extremist groups have so polarized it on both sides. I feel bad for those who only see this issue in terms of political power and not compassion for fellow humans whose skin tone adversely affects their ability to live freely and gain equal opportunity in our culture.
It doesn’t look like there’s a political answer here that will fly these days, but that doesn’t mean we as individuals can’t open our hearts a bit wider, engage in one-on-one conversations that can move the needle, and encourage conversations of healing among the people we influence.
Words like equity, fragility, and privilege can trigger strong reactions. But my heart is encouraged by those who look like me who are taking a longer look and discovering there is something to be explored beyond the agendas of those on the extremes. For those of us in the dominant culture, we can listen to those with darker skin tones and understand how that is treated in our broader culture. We can steward the advantages we have to ensure that others have the same opportunities that we have. I am far more excited about those of you who are engaging in this conversation than I am discouraged by those who resist it.
I want to share two emails with you I received about our book and the discussions around it. One is from a medical doctor and what he is learning:
I am very grateful for you and how you have influenced my spiritual journey. The God Journey podcasts, your books, and getting to experience Israel with you and a wonderful group of new friends. All of these have touched me in profound ways. The book on polarization you wrote with Arnita and Bob- ‘A Language of Healing..,” really challenged my thinking. Last year after George Floyd was killed, I decided to take a few minutes with my black patients during the end of their appointment and ask them how they were doing in light of what had happened. It was difficult to do given the schedule and how I can easily get behind. But it was worth it. I probably listened to about 25 or so patients and it was remarkable that nearly all of them had personal stories about their negative experiences with law enforcement or one of their family members. My goal was to listen and learn. I don’t think I would have even thought of doing this had it not been for reading your book. So thank you for being a part of this project.
If we can just begin to listen and care for those adversely impacted by the inequities in our culture, some incredible things can happen.
The other is an exchange I had with a woman in Wisconsin after hearing the last Zoom session I did with Bob Prater and Arnita Taylor a year or so ago. Arnita mentioned one of the questions she likes to ask people who want to discuss race with her is, “How are you stewarding your privilege?” Their response to the question gives her insight into the potential direction and value of an ongoing conversation.
Could help me to understand what it means to steward my white privilege? I am looking at identifying the many ways I have white privilege which in itself eye opening. I am having difficulty understanding how I would steward those privileges. I feel as if I am getting into the weeds with this. Could you help me to understand?
Here is my response:
“What a great question! Learning to steward our privilege is a learning experience. First, we’ve got to recognize we have one. Then, instead of feeling guilty, we steward it by helping marginalized groups have the same privilege we enjoy. How we do that depends on who we are and what influence we have. It may be as simple as an encouraging word or a cup of cold water or venturing the difficult communication with someone who is being racially dismissive.
“What it means for each of us has to be discovered, not explained. Ask Father about it. Ask him to show you as your life unfolds during the day. Build some relationships with marginalized people and ask them for ideas that they think would be helpful coming from you.
I love that you’re exploring this. You’ll learn lots.”
I can do that. Ask him to show me and watch for things to unfold. I also really love what you said here, “Build some relationships with marginalized people and ask them for ideas that they think would be helpful coming from you.” Especially the part of asking someone for ideas that they think would be helpful coming from me. That really fits, because I don’t know. If I pretend to know I’ll really be in the weeds slopping around. Asking someone for ideas that they think would be helpful speaks of adventure and discovery.
I wrote a long list of my white privilege. Some of them blew my mind. The more I wrote the more I uncovered. Sure, I’m not done with that list, but it’s a start. I’ve got to say I did cry through part of the process. Not sure if it’s guilt or sorrow. Whatever it is I’m going to trust it. I can feel him in this with me, so I’m going to trust the tears.
I love that she thought through how her whiter skin has opened doors for her that others might not have the same access because of their skin tone. Proximity, courage, compassion, and integrity on the part of people like us are so vital if we’re going to make a dent in the racial angst of our culture since our political leaders are too polarizing to do anything about it themselves.