Friday, July 31, 2015

white clergy reading racism: intro

As a young clergy woman (YCW), one of the things that has helped my ministry the most is being a part of the Young Clergy Women Project (YCWP). The YCWP is a private Facebook group for women clergy (Christian) who are ordained before 35 and includes women up to age 40. As of today, there are 832 women from various denominations all over the world who are part of the group. We share our joys, sorrows, struggles, victories, resources, jokes, sermon ideas, and prayer requests. I can't tell you how much it has meant to me to have this resource; work in the Church is rewarding but also very challenging, and without the support of the group, I might have considered leaving ministry a long time ago. 

In light of recent events in our country, some members of the YCWP have formed a sub-group to discuss matters of race. The description of the group says, "This group begins from the assumption that white folks need to educate ourselves about the history and present reality of racism and racial dynamics in the US context in order to create meaningful change...this is a place for loving accountability...while the conversation is focused on the education of white folks, members of color are welcome." The group is not limited to white folks, but we are the ones who need to be doing the work of learning about our privilege and educating ourselves on issues of race; it is not the responsibility of people of color to teach us, though I welcome any insight that people of color are willing to give us (if we think this work is hard, remember that many people have to live with this reality every day). 

In the sub-group we share articles and resources for having discussions about race in our faith communities as well as committing to reading books together. Our first book is Bruce Reyes-Chow's But I Don't See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. We will read one chapter every two weeks and answer questions. I would love it if you read along with me/us! I know that race and racism are neither easy nor pleasant topics to discuss, and that in the course of this process I will have to face some really uncomfortable realizations about myself. But things in this country cannot stay the way they are, and so in order to help bring about change, I need to begin by challenging my own assumptions, stereotypes, and biases. I need to change my heart. 

You are welcome to participate in this process to the degree with which you feel comfortable, whether that's reading along and answering the questions on your own, to just reading this blog (although if you're following along I would be worried if you didn't become uncomfortable at some point). Note that these answers, thoughts, and experiences are my own, and do not necessarily represent that of the Church or anyone/anything else. I will do my best to be as honest, open, and vulnerable as I feel safe and comfortable. I ask that you be respectful in your responses; as it says in our sub-group: "this is a place for loving accountability--I hope we can assume good intentions while also gently pointing out places where [we] need to examine assumptions, learn new language, or do further research." Thanks for joining me!

image found here

Here are the questions for Chapter 1:

  1. Reyes-Chow seeks an audience of readers who are "living in the tension between intellectual pursuit and passionate action." How or why does this describe you?
  2. In discussing privilege, Reyes-Chow cites some tweets from the #blackprivilege response. Did any of the tweets in the book (or those you found on Twitter) offer you a new lens on racism?
  3. Especially for (young clergy) women, how did you relate to the dismissive comment that "gender doesn't matter anymore"? Does or does this not help you enter into the conversation about race?
  4. How do you experience this truth in your church and in your life of faith that the "church too often finds itself trapped in the vernacular and strategies of a generation past. We have failed to find new ways to deal with the nature of race and racism that manifests in different ways"? Where do you see hope?
  5. Reyes-Chow concludes this chapter with a statement about Christianity's role in conversations about race. How might you claim this possibility as a guiding force in your ministry and/or your life?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

a reflection on negative symbols

My friend Melanie M. sent me this article ( and wanted to know what I thought about it, since I am half-German. Her church has "made public invitations to a process of 'prayerful discussions' about [their] historic confederate architecture and symbols throughout the worship space"(the symbols include the Confederate flag). What follows is what I sent to her [side note: just to be clear, I agree with the removal of the Confederate flag from all state buildings with the exception of museums].

Here are my thoughts, as a half-German who has never lived in Germany:

I think [the article is] a great illustration. It presents the arguments for the many various cases for the decisions that people have to face in a situation similar to yours. 

What is the reason for the flag's removal? If it is because it is (understandably!) offensive to worshipers and it inhibits their ability to worship as part of the community, then by all means, it should be removed. 

But if it is because it is embarrassing to the worshipers, or makes them feel guilty or uncomfortable, then I think that is not a good enough reason to remove it, and probably all the more reason to keep it and own the full history of the congregation/city/country. 

What I'm afraid of is that the Confederate flag is going to be removed as a way of whitewashing our history, of deleting our past because white people can't face the fact that we were (are) complicit in the subjugation of black people. 

With the removal of the flag, are we making actual steps toward reconciliation, or is it just an easy way for white people to pat ourselves on the back and say that we did something without owning what we did in the past (or present)?

People are not cut and dry; we are complicated, nuanced creatures, and we have both good and bad at play (at war?) within us. To quote one of my favorite book series (Harry Potter, of course): "We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are" [for context: This is when Sirius Black and Harry are looking at a tapestry with Sirius' family tree. Many of his family members were evil wizards, but Sirius fought for the side of good].

I think this is why I have always had a morbid fascination with the Holocaust--I think that for so long I have sought to understand how the people I loved, who I knew as good and kind people, were part of a system/society that committed such atrocities. And I admit that I feel personally responsible for what happened, though I am two generations removed (I have heard that even younger generations feel similarly). But what I have begun to realize (rather late, I'm afraid) is that "good" people are capable of evil acts, and "bad" people are capable of generosity and kindness (Matthew 7:7-11 seems to echo--well, foreshadow, I suppose--this somewhat). 

What I appreciate about the Reichstag building keeping the graffiti is that it makes us Germans face the entirety of who we are as people. We are not all bad, and we are not all good. We are simply broken people, made in the image of a God who loves us despite our brokenness. It is through acknowledging this brokenness and our desperate need for God that we are finally able to take steps toward reconciliation. 

Image of graffiti from the article I mentioned above.