Every one of us needs to be an activist if we want to heal this world.
Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis
Have you ever encountered someone whose words, presence, and actions were so consistent and compelling that you recognized the significance of the moment, the need to pay close attention? Jacqui Lewis is one of those people for me. I thought I was going to the CAC’s Universal Christ conference primarily to hear Richard Rohr, a long-time favorite teacher, but in reality, I think I needed to hear the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis even more.
Issues of social justice, particularly related to systemic racism, have become important to me in the past several years. I find myself hesitant to even write that, because I’m more aware than ever of my privileged position as a wealthy white woman, a position which inherently complicates my ability to authentically enter movements to bring change. However, if my commitment is simply to not be a “slactivist” (giving token support, primarily on social media platforms, enabling a self-congratulatory pat on the back for making a difference), then the question remains:
What am I committed to?
Jacqui Lewis spoke powerfully about examining the reality of the family and community systems we all grew up in that form our narratives about gender, racism, human sexuality, the economy, and the environment. The stories we hold that are not honest, she suggested, will restrict our moral courage – our ability to say anything other than a polite, quiet no. This restricted moral courage, which we justify by not wanting to cause offense, is more likely about our fear of being rejected.
So, what is our work?
Our work is to re-write the stories within us so that we know what we believe–not what someone else told us to believe.
And then, we have to “come out.” We must put our truth in our mouths so we can speak it and move on it.
I will confess, I have found this to be hard work, and I’ve had to honestly face my own failure to demonstrate its importance by the time and energy I devote to it. I applied to be a member of Latasha Morrison’s Be the Bridge to Racial Unity Facebook Group after hearing her speak at Brave On last fall. One of the requirements upon joining is a three-month period of silence, during which time you work through several educational units that help re-write those dishonest narratives many of us have. It is now 6 months later, and I am still working my way through Scene on Radio’s 14 part “Seeing White” series.
I’ve entertained the fear that my failure to complete all of the units within 3 months will result in my dismissal from the group. It would be easy to give up, deciding it’s simply too hard. I’ve been facing the ugly truth that my privilege allows me forget or give up. If my life depended on it, would I still find it too hard?
Even more compelling, I’ve been pondering what Love demands of me as a follower of Christ. Do I take seriously Jesus’ call to follow him…as an activist? Jesus was an activist, a leader of non-violent resistance against the political and economic systems of his day, and he was executed for it. That is a new story for me.
Growing up in church, I heard a lot more about Jesus dying for my sins than about his passion for fighting systemic injustice. Focusing on my personal sins keeps me working hard to be more worthy and has kept me more focused on my own inadequacy than on wondering who and how I am called to love.
When I look honestly at the story I learned in the Christian culture of my childhood, I recall hearing conversations about “the blacks” and their laziness. I recall the way my father would point out the disparity between the run-down homes and fancy cars that lined the streets of “the ghetto” as we passed through on our Sunday afternoon drives around town. A Sunday afternoon drive was one of the few things permitted on our Sabbath, along with naps, letter-writing to Grandma, and apparently, perpetuating racist stereotypes.
My work right now is re-writing this story, learning important history I was never taught, which fostered racism and the dehumanization of people different than me, especially people of color. While much of this rewriting of my own beliefs is internal, I am also keenly aware of the importance of acting on those beliefs.
Today, I am still ambivalent about becoming an activist, an indication I hold more stories that need examination. But I am also more sure than ever that the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis’ words are true – that it is something I must do if I want to participate in the healing of our world.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris, and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.
Janet, I applaud you for your passion and determination to think beyond what you were taught growing up. You wrote, “Our work is to re-write the stories within us so that we know what we believe–not what someone else told us to believe.” Important work to do within ourselves.
Thanks Barbara, I agree, it is important work.
Wow!! I will need to sit with your words for a while… thank you for your honest vulnerability… I too have many stories still to explore to move out of my ambilivence as well!!!
So glad I am not alone in my ambivalence!! It has been interesting how one story leads to another, how much I am realizing that so much of what I learned was not as straightforward or “true” as I was taught. I love that you are allowing yourself the space to ponder and consider with care, and wonder about your own stories. May your exploration bring both courage and kindness.
Wow. I resonate with the disrupting occurring within.
I feel like I could learn a lot from you in this arena. It seems to me that you and Barry and your family have lived this so beautifully…and I also have experienced enough to know it doesn’t often feel beautiful, but mostly disruptive!
That’s where the Spirit is, hovering over the chaos.
I didn’t like that you think you can’t do things because you are white. Who told you that? The media told you that. You aren’t worth stepping up to help because you are white and no nothing – you’ve never struggled because you aren’t black or Hispanic is what the media seems to tell us now. That is a complete false and racist narrative that needs to stop. I heard a black woman say yesterday that it is racist to tell a white woman she can not care about the welfare of brown and black people and she’s right. White women need to stop prefacing their desire to help with “I know I’m just a woman with white privilege so I don’t know anything about life, but … “ no one should have to shamefully admit that they were born a certain color – including white people.
Lisa, I hear a familiar tension in your words that I think is evidence of what a complex issue this is for many of us. This complexity is what I believe I need to be mindful of as I consider my actions – I think awareness helps me to act with greater care and intentionality. I agree with you that feeling shame about being white is counterproductive. Shame would keep me focused on me and my shame rather than being open and available to participate in the healing work that is so needed. May we continue to struggle well as we each seek what is ours to do.
By the way… that should say “know nothing” and I don’t mean to scold you – I think these same things (though I’m poor and white!)
Janet, Thank you for sharing your struggle with coming to terms with your privileged background. I, too believe that “We must put our truth in our mouths so we can speak it and move on it.” I like to think of standing in my beliefs–not just speaking them, but placing my body where I say my beliefs are. For me, that has meant standing next to a person who has a development disability, using my “privilege” to advocate for another. It has meant taking into my home someone who was dying and caring for him until he died. Small things, done with and for a few people–and I am ok with that. Be gentle with yourself as you reframe the stories you were told. It can take time and it can be exhausting.
Madeline, this is a beautiful way to think about it as well – placing my body where I say my beliefs are. Yes! And your reminder of how even the small things (though I don’t hear your examples as small at all) end up being an important part of reframing our stories. I am letting your reminder to be gentle with myself settle, thank you for the kind reminder.