June 20, 2011

Racism, Quaker theology, and my own liberation

Over the years, as Friends General Conference has established programs to eradicate racism among the Religious Society of Friends, I have heard the statement, "Racism hurts everyone."

I've been confused by that, since I myself am not a person of color and I didn't see how I was being hurt.

For the past two years, I've attended the annual national White Privilege Conference and that statement--Racism hurts everyone--has worked on me. But it wasn't until the intersection of two things coming together that my heart and spirit opened to that Truth.

First, a local Quaker friend of European descent pointed me to a quote by White Philadelphia Friend Arlene Kelly:

We are not a homogenous group seeking to become more diverse; we are an incomplete organization seeking to become more whole. --Friends Journal, October 2010
The second thing was that I began reflecting on Quakerism's doctrine of the Inner Light. In particular I was thinking of the concept that the more we listen together, and the more we hear from different individuals gathered in worship as to their own discernment and understanding of God's guidance, the closer we get to understanding the full Truth that God wishes for us to know.

When I disallow myself the opportunity to listen to, worship with, and befriend people who are different from me--people of color, immigrants or "new Americans," people who are poor or working class--when I disallow those connections, I am automatically cutting myself off from the Love and Truth that my brothers and sisters in the Spirit have for me and for my White middle-class, US-born peers.

The whole of the Truth cannot be understood without the Whole of people.

If I am regularly worshiping with and seeking Truth primarily with only some of God's children, then I am likely not able to know the Truth that others who are different from me hold, because I won't have access to understanding their experience of the world, of the Light.

In that case, the Truth itself is less than whole, particularly as Quakers of European descent strive to undo racism, understand the complexity of White privilege, and work for justice in the world.

As that awareness began to sink into my heart, I felt a lot of energy and space open up within me. It was as if all those spoken and unspoken cautions about watching out for "this group" or for "that group" just floated away.

While I was "being socialized without my consent"* and without my knowledge, to keep "those people" at arm's length and in a box labeled "CAUTION: Others," I didn't know that I myself was being boxed in, with messages of what I was supposed to think, what I was supposed to say, and how I was supposed to be.

When I came into the Truth that all of us are needed in order to know the Whole of God, I indeed felt freed. And I have never looked back.


*I have looked for a source for the concept of "being socialized without our consent," which I first heard at the White Privilege Conference in 2011 (WPC12) but haven't been able to find who to attribute it to.

June 10, 2011

Plenary session of Northern Yearly Meeting 2011

Over the years, I'd lost interest in going to yearly meeting sessions, largely because I was enamored instead by the discipline and approach to Meeting for Worship for Business that I had experienced at Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative.*

This year, Way isn't open for me to attend IYMC sessions, but I would say Way was very open for me to attend Northern Yearly Meeting. The writing was on the wall--and more literally, on the flyer: the theme was "Beyond Othering...To Loving."

Over the years, NYM has had plenaries and workshops dedicated to understanding racism, oppression, and inclusion. And over those same years, there's been a lot of talking and worshiping and listening to one another, but little outward change. As Friends, we sure do know a lot of stuff, but we don't seem to act on it too often--a sentiment recently raised up by another blogger, about how we Quakers engage in a bumper-sticker or banner-at-the-meetinghouse sort of activism.

Bit by bit, I wondered if the presence of so many Friends at the recent White Privilege Conference (WPC), which was held in NYM territory, would somehow lend itself to a different sort of experience this year.

And then I was invited to be part of the plenary that would be offered at NYM, working in collaboration with three others who had also attended the WPC this year. To add to Way opening, in case I had missed the earlier cues, I had a nudge to propose a workshop, Moving Through White Guilt. For the first time in a number of years, it was pretty easy to say Yes to the plenary and Yes to going to the yearly meeting.

During a conference call just a few weeks before the session, the four of us plenary planners/facilitators realized that we didn't have a feel or idea of how to frame the whole-gathering session. We had the theme to work with, and we had the guidance that the plenary not be a panel discussion about the WPC, since "Othering" occurs in many arenas: gay/straight; middle class/working class; able-bodied/disabled, etc.

So during the conference call, unsure what to do, we simply fell into worship... and we began to articulate how we were being led.

In the end, here's how the plenary unfolded:

1. We asked Friends to enter the large room in a worshipful manner, and the room had been arranged in large concentric circles, with a long table in the middle and a big aisle that led from the table to the hallway. We also asked for two visiting Friends to hold in the Light the group, the plenary facilitators, and the process for the evening.

2. On the table were many small pieces of tape and a number of pairs of name tags. Each pair of nametags represented an element of social power or privilege that a person either had or lacked.

For example, one pair was MALE/FEMALE (for the purpose of the plenary, we intentionally used a binary for each pairing); another pair was CHRISTIAN/NON-CHRISTIAN; a third pair was WHITE/PERSON OF COLOR. The items that had social power (in the U.S.) were on one color paper; those without power were on a different color.

3. After Friends were seated--there were about 100-120 adults--we asked them to come up to the table and take ONE nametag that represented some social power or privilege that they had in their life; and ONE nametag that represented some power or privileged that they didn't have. We asked them to tape the two tags onto their shirt and sit back down, paying attention to how they felt as they attached the tags while waiting for everyone else to do the same.

4. After everyone had taken their tags and was seated, we then moved the center table out to the hall (hence the large aisle leading to the hallway!). We went over some guidelines for the evening. We were careful not to say that we wanted to create a "safe space" because we made it clear that we wanted Friends to take risks, to "lean into your discomfort, because that's usually where the learning and growth are." Then we asked people to get into pairs and talk with each other briefly about why they picked the tags that they did and what it was like to do so. After just four or five minutes, we gathered back into a large group again for the next piece.

5. The biggest chunk of time for the evening, we explained, was dedicated to having individuals acknowledge, one at a time and in front of the whole group, one of three different experiences. In the large, central empty space in the room, on the right we placed a sign on the floor that said "Experience of having privilege." In the middle we placed "Experience of having less privilege." And on the left was "A request or something learned." We explained that, as in worship sharing, one Friend at a time would speak for a short time and then we'd return to silence before another person was to speak.

In addition, as Friends were ready, when someone wanted to share, she or he would come to the place on the floor (if able) that represented the "position" from which she or he was speaking: If it was to admit a time when she or he misused social power, the person would stand at the right. If it was to acknowledge a time when something was hurtful as a result of being in a place of less or no privilege, the person would stand in the center. And if it was to share something that was learned from either having privilege or from not having privilege; or it if was to make a specific, concrete request, the person would stand on the left: "As a person with a disability, ask me if I want help before you jump to help me..."

And we gave one last bit of guidance: We weren't asking people to share their most horrific moment, or their most shameful experience. After all, this wasn't intended to be a group therapy session or a cathartic experience. So we asked people to find an experience or memory that had a bit of a zing to it, a bit of energy attached to it, so that it wouldn't be an empty experience for them but neither would they be overwhelmed once they started to speak.

Then we waited.

The sharing was deep and rich, insightful and pained. Friends were attentive and moved. Some cried as the person in the central space shared an experience through tears.

It was powerful. And the Living Presence was with us.

6. As we had planned the evening, we had considered how to move from one part of the plenary to the next, especially how to close this particular piece, not knowing how tender the group might be. We had agreed that at each transition, we would insert a song that would be familiar to most Friends there. After all, NYM is the yearly meeting that is known for its fellowship-through-singing group, Nightingales.

Earlier in the plenary we had sung a verse from "Holy Ground," and two verses from "We Are A Gentle Loving People" (We are whole and we are broken...). At this point, we sang "Peace I Ask of Thee O River." It was so sweet, so perfect...

7. We quietly explained that before we'd move into closing worship, we wanted folks to get together with one other person and take a few minutes to talk about the experience: what was surprising, what was new; and to consider how what was shared that night might apply to either the person's own worship community or to the yearly meeting as a whole.

WoW, the room became all abuzz and it was hard to bring us back together! But we had another song in mind to do just that, and it took about three or four times to sing through "Woyaya" before we were ready to join in worship for the last 20-30 minutes.

The whole evening was such a gift... The worship was rich and built on themes and experiences that resonated for many that night.

When we four debriefed with the two Friends who had been holding the space, we each acknowledged how well-used we felt; how we never could have come up with this plenary if we had actually tried to plan it; how open we were to being led and how trusted we each felt as the different pieces emerged and fell into place.

During the four-hour drive home, I found myself wondering if I'd be back in 2012. After all, I'm curious to see if there is any fruit of the Spirit that may have been seeded as a result of that two-hour session.


*I've written quite a bit about my experiences at IYMC annual sessions. This link takes you to every post that has the tag "IYMC."

June 4, 2011

This is what Loving-kindness looks like

I acknowledge that The Good Raised Up has taken a bit of a turn lately. Recent blog posts--which are more rare than even a year ago--are less about explicit Quakerism and more about marriage equality in Minnesota* and the White Privilege Conference that was held in April.

These topics and my involvement in them are more about social change than they are about conveying our Quaker faith to one another. At the same time, my life and where I am called is still about faithfulness as a Friend and, now more than ever, about Love.

Since late May 2011, I've been keeping a list of creative ways to respond to organizations, individuals, and messages that promote stereotypes of GLBTQ people, that denigrate us and our families, that distort the truth, prey on fears, and undermine the very nature of who we are and how we love.

I keep this list because the struggle over marriage equality is coming to my state, in the form of a proposed constitutional restriction that "marriage" be reserved for only a man and a woman. Granted, the struggle is already in my yearly meeting, though in much less strident form.

So I make lists of what a public witness, a campaign, an act of civil disobedience, a movement might look like, to interrupt the perpetuation of unchecked, unquestioned straight privilege.

One theme that recurs throughout my list is this:

    If we could be socialized from a very young age with a message of our choosing, what would that message be?
It probably wouldn't be a message about getting the most toys by the time we die, or about traveling the world, or even about "living happily ever after." Probably not a message that would be dependent on our station in life or on the color of our skin or on the dollars in our bank account.

If I could choose the message that I would have been socialized into, it would go something like this:
    Above all else, love one another. Treat others with loving-kindness and insist that you and all others also be treated with loving-kindness. Everyone is worthy of love; each of you is capable to give love; and each of you is to do your best to give it--and give it generously--while respecting and loving yourself as well.
Nothing earth-shattering. Nothing even truly remarkable, when you think about it.

Yet I have the faith that this simple, fundamental message of unconditional love, of loving-kindness, can and ultimately will transcend the negative and subversive voices that are coming to Minnesota soon. Love is a powerful transformative force of its own, if we but choose it over and over and over again.

I have the faith that a message of love will make us want to turn toward the Light and give energy toward love rather than spend energy on refuting million-dollar ad campaigns that distort the Truth and hurt both the participants in and the targets of the campaign.

I have the faith that God loves love, that the yearning to love, to be loved, and to share in the expression of love--and to do so generously--is universal, regardless of gender, political party, age, or even legislation.

The way I see it these days, the fastest way to implement meaningful social change is to socialize everyone we meet--whether adversary or lover, for each is our sister and our brother--to reprogram all of us to "download" messages of loving-kindness and delete internalized, socialized messages of meanness, exclusion, and scarcity.

I believe God calls us, all of us, to greater love, to our greater measure of Light.

How do we reprogram ourselves, then, how are we to reboot our lifelong internal system and insert a new message, a new HTML, for us all?

We do so bit by bit, mindfully and with the intention to answer that of God in everyone, according to the Loving Principle that is innately within us. Many of us already know this...

I was heartened recently by an article I saw about a progressive political scientist Melissa Harris-Perry. In the article, she advocates that, when speaking on a number of social justice issues and to counter the rhetoric that is out there, we can do so by drawing on our own faith-based message of God's love and the overall liberation narrative of Scripture.

I like her message. It has nothing to do with sin, ex-gay therapy, or vying for scarce resources.

Indeed, if we are going to speak from a renewed center and grounding of Love and of loving-kindness, we are going to have to know what it feels like in our own body; what it sounds like to our own ear; what it smells like and what it looks like.

We must be on the lookout for it. Nurture it. Cultivate it. Teach it to our children, to our parents, to our neighbors, to strangers, to one another--for we are our own sisters and brothers, and we have been socialized over many generations to forget that universal connection.

I'll end this post with two lists: The first is about how we have been taught to disregard loving-kindness. The second is what loving-kindness looks like. We all have an opportunity to choose which one to pay attention to.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Signs of being taught to disregard loving-kindness
(In no particular order)

Invalidation of someone's personal experience or the cumulative experience of a group.
Division, separation, avoidance, alienation.
Lack of deep, meaningful connections.
Certainty of one right answer, one way to be.
Better than/less than thinking.
Increased defensiveness.
Name-calling and stereotyping.
Blame or responsibility placed on those who have less or on those who have fewer privileges.
Rigidity and long-time refusal to consider alternate possibilities.
Black and white thinking; either-or rhetoric.
A longer view of history is used to distort current issues and to undermine facts or cumulative experience.
Use of religion, history, legislation, etc. to tear down, divide, and coerce.
Exploiting doubt in order to cause harm or make others less-than.
Anger that is disproportionate to a given situation.
Guilt is evoked or exploited to tell others what to think, how to act, etc.
Limited or no direct, meaningful experience with members of the group that is or will be affected.
Behaviors and words that indicate it's okay to disparage a group in the name of "Truth."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Okay. Deep breath.

That list was hard for me to write, but it's also been empowering for me to articulate all of that and to have the veils of harmful, disconnective socialization come off of my face. Thanks to the White Privilege Conference experience in 2010 and 2011 to help me "wake up"!

And now to the brighter side of Life:

This is what loving-kindness looks like
(In no particular order)

Unity in heart and spirit.
Caring for one another.
Affirmation of our wholeness.
Kindness in the face of adversity and hatred.
Belief in our own and in each other's fullest potential to do better, to do right by others.
Unconditional acceptance of another's inward and outward condition in the moment.
A value of expansiveness; a growth-oriented spirit; a desire for mutual liberation.
Generosity of spirit, time, and energy.
To be in deep, meaningful relationship, even with those who are different or who disagree with us.
A lifting up of a higher, universal Truth.
Use of religion, history, legislation, etc. to build up and enrich society.
Allowing and encouraging one another to view history, experience, and even Scripture as pointing toward faith, hope, and love.
Willingness to struggle with gray areas, for out of the compassionate struggle comes new Light.
Being gentle with oneself and with others during challenging times.
Compassion for those who do the hurting and oppressing.
Solidarity with oppressed peoples and individuals.
Light, light-heartedness, unrestricted joy.
A glint in one's eye, just because.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thanks, as always, for reading me.


*The video to which this link connects is raw footage of the scene at the Minnesota capitol just as the final vote of the House was being taken and immediately afterward. ...Does this look like a group of people defeated? Jeanne and I were inside the House's chambers, in the balcony ("gallery") as the entire event played out. We could clearly hear the chants "Just vote No! Just vote No!" inside. In the foreground of the first few seconds of the video is a White man holding a sign that says "Same-sex couples supported our marriage. Let's return the favor." He's a Quaker, and he and his opposite-sex partner, along with about 20 other straight Quaker allies, were at the capitol nearly the entire week, shouting and singing their hearts out. Despite the outcome of the week, Love was there, and it was palpable.

June 2, 2011

Guest piece: Witnessing to nonviolence on the eve of a long struggle


Some of you know that here in Minnesota, the Republican-run legislature voted last month in May to place a question on next year's ballot that would define within the state's constitution that a marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The Human Rights Campaign is working with statewide organizations that advocate and lobby on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. No doubt many progressive faith communities will be involved, too.

But HRC's recruitment email included the sentence "...[We] have enough time to build the infrastructure needed to win – and that means recruiting throngs of foot soldiers to fight the amendment." [emphasis mine]

One local Friend, whom I'll simply refer to as Heather, cc'd me on her personal reply to HRC's National Field Director, Marty Rouse, whose name is attributed to the recruitment email.

Here's Heather's reply, with her permission.


Dear Marty,

Words can not express the gratitude I feel as a Minnesotan, knowing that HRC will help us accurately portray families headed by same-sex couples as loving, healthy, American, and deserving of the same legal protections that other families take for granted.

Your letter did however raise concern for me in one area. I can not abide the conceptualization of this as a "war." Even if "war" was declared on our families*, I do not agree to "fight." In my household, in my same-sex marriage-affirming faith community, there will be no "foot soldiers." There will be people earnestly engaged in non-violent resistance; there will be courage manifested in speaking truth to power; there will be "sweat-equity" invested in our democracy; there will be sacrifice and hard work and returning again and again to the belief that hate does not overcome hate -- only love can do that.

I ask you, on behalf of those of us who commit our lives to nonviolence, to please resist using the imagery of war to characterize the commitment I deeply believe that you and I share, to overcome the constitutional ban on gay marriage in Minnesota. We know the power of love, and I can not think of a better time to witness than this.


*which it was -- I understand -- the MN Representative we have come to know through an extended family member told us, the morning of the vote, that his constituents are like "young recruits before the Civil War, hounding him with the refrain, 'Just let us fight!!'"