May 10–Open the Window: Listen, Ask

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 3-4 weeks asking myself two questions that I received from the Black Lives of UU:

How does living in a white centered world affect your humanity?

What works about the white supremacy system that is in place for you?

Here’s another reflection that has come out of that consideration.

I do better to listen than to speak, to ask questions than to make statements. The white supremacy system that is in place at all levels of our society is not an area where I feel competent, and I find that I am opened up, enabled to see and hear it more clearly when I ask questions particularly of People of Color.  Genuine questions.  Questions that I have allowed to move through my heart, first.

The political comedian, W. Kamau Bell,  tells how his daughter who has big, beautiful natural hair came home from school to say that she no longer wanted to wear her hair out because white children felt that they could just walk up and touch her hair whenever they wanted to.

Ta Nahesi Coates talks about the breaking the body and says this:
I believed, and still do, that our bodies are our selves, that my soul is the voltage conducted through neurons and nerves, and that my spirit is my flesh.
If our bodies are ourselves and others feel like they have free access to my body . . . then aren’t they saying that they own me?

I have colleagues and friends who are People of Color whom I admire and respect. I have taken my questions, turned for a while in my heart and mind, to them. They are generous with me. They are patient with my ignorance. And they are brutal with the details because what they have been through is often brutal. They do not coddle me by sanitizing their stories.

The white supremacy system is killing us–all of us and it keeps many of us ignorant, blind and deaf to what it is doing.  Over a year ago during an adult Religious Exploration session, I heard Nathalie Bigord offer this about understanding the BLM title–sometimes it helps to say “Black lives matter, too.”  That little word, too, should be unnecessary. But I’ve seen white complainers go silent when it was added.  Oh.

Perhaps we have to say to ourselves this:  white people, white supremacy is killing us, too.  White supremacy is our problem, too.  White people, this matters to us, too.  

Bob Patrick

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May 9–Open the Window: Impossible work?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 3-4 weeks asking myself two questions that I received from the Black Lives of UU:

How does living in a white centered world affect your humanity?

What works about the white supremacy system that is in place for you?  

Here’s another reflection that has come out of that consideration.

I have come to think that I am working on an almost impossible work.  There are many insidious things about the system of white supremacy.  The insidious thing for white people is that the system works for us in ways that are virtually invisible to us and silent to us.  If nothing calls my attention to it, I am most likely not to see it and not to hear it. If I am opposed to the white supremacy system then I have to work HARD to learn how to see it and to hear it.  The white supremacy system is destroying all of us, and so, I am looking for ways to see and hear the white supremacy system so that I can help dismantle it.

Recently I took notes for 30 minutes while watching an episode of Blue Bloods on television.  Within 30 minutes we were shown 28 commercials. One half of them included only white people.  One quarter included a mixture of People of Color and white people one of which only showed People of Color in subservient roles. About an eighth included no people at all, and 1 commercial of the 28 included just black people.  

Conscious or not, we are swimming in advertising. It favors white people shaping the unconscious way that we do business in the world (in other words, this is white supremacy alive and well). I have to work hard if I want to be aware of it, and as a white person, I don’t have to be aware of it at all.  

As I try and make visible and audible the system of white supremacy that has shaped me since infancy into this kind of blindness and deafness, I looking for voices of People of Color to listen to, especially through blogs, interviews and books.  If they make me react and defensive, that’s a sure sign I need to listen and learn.  

Bob Patrick

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May 8–Open the Window: Reaction Not Helpful

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 3-4 weeks asking myself two questions that I received from the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism:

A. How does living in a white centered world affect your humanity?

B. What works about the white supremacy system that is in place for you?  

Here’s what I am coming to see about myself.

On the issue of race and racial equity, I am quick to react.  My reactivity, I am learning, is a cover for defensiveness, and I am defensive because there is still far too much that I don’t understand, that I don’t know about how People of Color experience themselves in all of the contexts we live in.  

When Cristina Rivera went public with the hiring practices in the UUA, particularly over a high ranking position for the Southern Region, my first reaction was in writing on Facebook.  I wrote:  “I support racial equity in all areas of our life, and I will continue to work for it, but I will not use the term white supremacy.  It has a history that’s too inflammatory.”  Some of you, I know, have felt the same way, reacted the same way.  

No one was or is calling me or you or this church or this religion white supremacists.  What many are saying, and I now join them–that our religion is built upon a white supremacy system, and that system runs quite well all by itself without a single white supremacist in the room to make it happen.  It is a system.  It was put into place centuries ago. It not only runs our religion and our church, but it runs our schools, our police departments our communities, our county government, our State and our country.  The white supremacy system is set up to favor white people at every turn. If we refuse to acknowledge that the system is in place, we assure that it will continue to run things.

In order for me to recognize this system and how it runs us–I have had to slow down, be quiet and take note.  Reactivity has not served to open the window of my mind and heart. Reaction and defensiveness help keep that window sealed shut.

Bob Patrick

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Open the Window–May 4: True Names, Please

As a white person (btw, I hate that label, but that’s another post) I am working these days on getting my personal window open–open to injustices that are all around me many of which I actually benefit from.  This benefit from injustice–the very idea of which appalls me, happens usually without my even knowing it.

Susan Stebbins Collins confirms my own experience in this regard when she says that “injustice is based on one person or group trying to get/control/hold on to resources, status, a ‘good life’ at the expense of another person or group – including subtle and extreme forms. Injustice can be understood as a personal and collective experience and as a set of well-developed systems that pervade our lives and include intersecting oppressions: classism, racism, sexism, etc. These are often hidden/obscured and difficult to face, calling for continual awareness and inquiry.”

There is a poem/meditation of Thich Nhat Hanh’s that has helped me over the years work on loosening the seal on my window. It reminds me that there is a place where the oppressor and the oppressed meet, that I can recognize both within myself.  I share it below for your own reflections and your own work on opening the window so that the dove can fly in.

Bob Patrick

Please Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

— Call Me By My True Names, Thich Nhat Hanh

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May 1–Open the Window: Time for peace?

Our song theme for the month of May,  Open the Window, was written in 1997 by Elise Witt.  She based it on a spiritual from the Georgia Sea Islands called Heist the Window, Noah.

“Though Elise’s version uses only one phrase from the original Spiritual, it keeps the intention of naming situations in our lives, personal and global, that need opening for the dove to fly in, for us to find peace.”

If ever we lived in a time when there are situations in our lives, personal and global, that need opening for the dove to fly in, it would be now.  Let’s consider even our own Unitarian Universalist Association’s struggle to name and overcome the system of white supremacy that still runs our religious community.  We need the Dove to fly in.  We need transformation, personal and global.  We have so much to explore in ourselves, personally and as a community.

Here is Elise Witt singing the song a capella, as she does most often in concert.  I think listening to this often these days would help us get ready to open the window and let the dove fly in.

Bob Patrick

 

 

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April 30 – Come, Come Whoever You Are: Welcoming Woke-ness

Today you may hear words that upset you.  Today you may be confronted with ideas that challenge your innate or carefully cultivated sense of knowing that you are on the right path.  What will you do when you are faced with these challenges to your personal perspective?  How will you cope with a confrontation to your peace of soul?

If I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, am I not obligated to listen to what others have to say with an ear toward truly hearing them?  Even if their words disrupt my own equilibrium…
How can I claim to support justice, equity, and compassion in human relations if I am not willing to abandon the preservation of my own contentment in order to bring each of them into being as a reality for everyone in this world?
If I claim acceptance of others, and wish for them the same breadth of spiritual growth that I myself strive for, how can I close my mind to their stories of how they feel and how they experience society and the people around them?
And if I value the goal of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all, do I not owe it to myself and my community to invite discomfort in to my heart and mind in order to do the work that will get us there?

We can only grow in understanding of the world and our fellow human beings when we invite in ideas that challenge our status quo of knowing.  When we resist the urge to dismiss that which would overturn our sense of this present reality as being only what our own long-held perspective would allow us to see.

If an idea disquiets you, make the effort to entertain it for a moment… or two.  If a notion unsettles you, ask yourself what it is that you find disturbing, and whether there is value in examining the discomfort that it has stirred.  Resist embracing contentment over facing difficult truths.  Change can be hard, but if we do not challenge ourselves to confront our own preconceived notions, can we credibly claim to believe in and embody the Principles we hold so dear?

Take the risk of opening your mind, today.  Listen, learn, be humbled, seek and own your discomfort.   And then go forth to effect change.

 

~ Christiana  

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April 28–Come, Come Whoever You Are: And Bring Your Knapsack

As a white person living in this culture, who wants to confront the white supremacy system that continues to run the institutions that we all participate in, I am coming to realize that this means owning how I benefit from that system. I do benefit from the system, and People of Color, whether I know and love them or not, do not.

Peggy McIntosh, Senior Research Associate in Women’s Studies at Wellesely College, published a paper in which she investigated what she calls the “Invisible Knapsack” or those daily conditions which white people live in that we may remain largely ignorant of but from which we benefit much.  In this excerpt of her published work, she lists 50 of these “items in the invisible knapsack.”  I am going to post a few here each day for the next few days for our consideration. In yesterday’s post, we looked at how being white shows up in community, in what we see and the voices we hear.

Today, let’s consider how the white supremacy system serves those of us who are white in the areas of culture, finances and education.  This are some of the 50 items on McIntosh’s list.

I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.

I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

Culture, money and education.  They are systems bigger than any of us and in which we participate all the time.  They are non-negotiables as systems.  We need them to survive and thrive, which makes what we do around culture, money and education a social justice issue.  They ought to be systems that we can rely on, sink into and feel support from. Imagine if these necessary lifelines were themselves sources of hostility and rejection.

I don’t have to imagine.  I am a white man living in a world where, for the most part, culture, financial systems, and education have worked well for me at the same time that they have not worked well for my fellow human beings of Color.  The white supremacy system has benefited me all of my life.

Bob Patrick

 

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April 27–Come, Come Whoever You Are: Especially if you look like me

For the next two Sundays at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett, we will be working with some painful issues of race and racism that have arisen in our Unitarian Universalist Association around the practice of hiring and advancement in positions of leadership.  What is emerging in our discussions, so far, are the varying levels of pain and suffering around racial equity.  They affect us differently.  People of Color have stories to tell of treatment and the use of language that offends, misunderstands and excludes them from human dignity at every level of society, including life in the church.  White people are often caught off guard and are immediately disturbed by the stories that People of Color tell and often enough that white disturbance is based in so much of what we do not know–about People of Color and about ourselves.

It’s the latter that I want to explore in large part because it makes most sense for me as a white person and for those of us who are white to do some serious work on what we don’t know (by definition, that’s what ignorance is) before trying to do anything else but listen when People of Color speak–however tempting it might be to offer our opinions.

Peggy McIntosh, Senior Research Associate in Women’s Studies at Wellesely College, published a paper in which she investigated what she calls the “Invisible Knapsack” or those daily conditions which white people live in that we may remain largely ignorant of but from which we benefit much.  In this excerpt of her published work, she lists 50 of these “items in the invisible knapsack.”  I am going to post a few here each day for the next few days for our consideration. To begin with, McIntosh makes three areas of my own ignorance clear to me in these items in the invisible knapsack–in my community, in what I see and in what I hear.

Community

I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust me or my kind.

I can be pretty sure that my neighbors will be neutral or pleasant to me.

Sight

When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

Voice

I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.

I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

As McIntosh notes, we who are white have been taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness.  But, what about the invisible system that is in place everywhere, all the time which gives to us who are white a dominance that never has to be named?  This is what we are being asked to see as the white supremacy that continues to operate whether we acknowledge it or not.

Bob Patrick

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April 25–Come, Come Whoever You Are: No Despair

We are no caravan of despair.
Come, yet again, come.

On some level, we want the whole experience, and we need to know that the whole experience of our humanity is accepted, is not judged, is welcome.

Most of us walk around with a public face that we wear.  This is the face by which we are mostly known.  Most of us also walk around hiding behind that face the other aspects of ourselves that we are not sure will be accepted–by others and perhaps even by ourselves. We might have concrete experiences of being rejected because of those aspects of ourselves, and we do not wish to repeat those experiences.  We long for a place and a people who simply welcomes us.

Come, come whoever you are . . . 

We develop, then, the public face–one that is generally accepted or, if not entirely accepted, one that will get us through.  Some of our public faces look intellectual.  Others come across as aggressive and fierce. Some public faces are quiet and withdrawn in the hopes that we are just not noticed.  Some become almost like clowns, the life and energy of the party, always and everywhere.  All–faces behind which we can hide, take some safety, and avoid rejection.

Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving . . . 

The great irony to me in this whole dynamic (one that I am convinced from which no one really escapes entirely) is that even while I am hiding behind my public face in hopes of not being rejected or judged by the communities I long to be welcome in, I myself harbor thoughts and feelings of judgment and rejection toward others.  I like to walk around thinking that I am not that way.  Then, someone lowers their public face just a bit, and I see some aspect that I did not know was there.  It surprises me.  Frightens me.  Disorients me, and I recover to my public face with some judgment:  that’s not right; that’s not acceptable; that’s not welcome.  I even worry in those moments that I will be found out for my hypocrisy and judged and rejected.  What sort of horrible game am I caught in, are we caught in?

We are no caravan of despair.

I show up in my various communities–especially the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett–because I intend for it to be a community of no despair, a welcoming place for all.  I intend that, and I believe that others with whom I gather also believe this.  We are no caravan of despair. But.  We are all struggling with this same basic conundrum. We welcome and we want to be welcome and we still struggle with fear, anger, and confusion. We all, to some degree, wear public faces and have hidden selves that we are coaxing toward healing.  So . . .

Come, come whoever you are.

Join us in the dance.  Join us in the struggle.  Join us in the mystery.  Join us, and let’s work together.  There is much to learn.  There are many to love, beginning with those we find staring back in the mirror.

Bob Patrick

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April 20–Come, Come Whoever You Are–to the Mother

This Spring is there something worth a celebration of the newness and the arrival of good in your life? Has a needed, wanted person come back into your story?  Do you need to go get someone from the underworld (like Persephone in her story)?  Please don’t let our current political climate, our climate change, our horrible treatment of many who are so disadvantaged, steal all you joy.  Please don’t give all your joy away to the worthiness of our struggles.  Spring is a reminder that it cannot stay winter forever.

We must cope with a constant element from our tribal past and our ancient religious traditions.  Both the God of the Jewish people and the Roman Gods required sacrifices to offer favor and atonement for the wrongs done by humanity. Jesus in the Christian story is the ultimate sacrifice, and poor Persephone is given in marriage to the Underworld, and in many versions of this story she has no say in the matter.

Who are we sacrificing, in an attempt to make things better? This is ancient, tribal appeal to appease tribal deities. Does your most holy require human sacrifice still, and if so, why?

I want to offer this Easter season that we tell the Gods that we have given enough innocent blood for what we thought would make things better. We are no longer willing to do so.  We want to offer up some stuff we can do without on the altar.

We will give up our need to seek tribal revenge on ancient grievances and we want to offer flowers to the Goddess of Forgiveness if she will have us.  We want to seek resolution for our family feuds.  That would include the entire family.

We want to find our old Mother Goddess who birthed humanity, before the Father God arrived and pushed her out of the story.  Mother we want to offer our humble recognition of being one family of humanity.

Mother help us get there. We have some siblings who have taken over and it’s not working.

This Easter we want to honor our striving to come back to life with the ability to forgive and love like we mean it.  Maybe love so intently that death can’t stop the good we had in mind, nor the connection we feel.

This Easter we want to be so loving that we are made strong in our ability to stop acts of unlove and hate.  Mother, help us to do it as though we are restoring and resurrecting something so great that we have never seen in our human family.

Mother, help us, one to another choose love and choose the best way out of winter, out of our justified fear, out of our of cold heartedness and into warmth that enlivens our relationships and strengthens our best collective and individual selves.

Rev. Duncan Teague
(Excerpted from Easter Sunday sermon, April 16, 2017)

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