Are you one of those people who think of themselves as enlightened and progressive because you are “not conservative”? Do you ever make “I usually stay out of politics” speeches? Are you a person who believes “staying out of politics” is a virtue?
I have a word for you.
As this nation’s violence becomes apparent to more and more people, you need to know that it is a privilege to “stay out of politics.” It is a privilege to be able to wake up and only have to worry about your photography or your food blog or your hipster band or your grandma. It isn’t something to be proud of. It doesn’t make you better than anyone to “stay out of politics.”
You think you can choose to opt in and out of politics whenever you want.
We are cautioned in the letter from the elders of Balby that “these things [which we have shared with you] we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all with the measure of light which is pure and holy may be guided . . . and fulfilled in the Spirit,—not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” (Emphasis added)
Our current books of discipline, our yearly meetings’ books of faith and practice were conceived of and written largely by white Friends with limited or no direct experience, or analysis, of the cumulative harms of racism, white supremacy, and implicit bias. Year after year, generation after generation, although our good intentions as white Friends have carried our predominantly white worship communities through racial tensions, we have failed our Friends of color, whether they worship with us on First Days or not. We must begin to consider the possibility that our Faith and Practice may be flawed or that we have begun to rely too much on guidance from the printed word, rather than on the Spirit that brought them forth. The words and advices contained therein may reinforce patterns, behaviors, and worldviews grounded in unexamined whiteness, unknowingly cultivating attitudes that favor compliance or conformity to worldly norms rather than encouraging unity with the Living Spirit.
Sometimes, I attempt to break from social justice discourse, work and meetings to focus on myself and to reconnect with and meditate upon some of my other values. Yet, when I engage in these meditations, I realize that I can never fully remove them from my need for social justice. My life requires social justice. I realize how the need for social justice is part of my personal life, even in those mundane moments that many would describe as “apolitical”, such as going on a date, spending time outdoors or a going to a party. When I think about community, personal health, relationships, intimacy, trust, self-love — I can never separate these things from my experience as a black Latina woman in the southern United States. No matter how personal the endeavor may seem, being places and meeting people will always have dimensions of power involved. It is the world we live in. That’s why I need social justice in my personal life, because I want to have a good life.
Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public. – Cornel West
These are difficult times, and I am afraid. I’m afraid for me and for the people I love. I feel rushed. I feel urgency. I don’t have time to convince you. I don’t have beautiful language or academic words. I only have this. If you are a Christian who can’t hear me, who doesn’t believe I’m in pain, who doesn’t believe the pain is real, then we have a problem. You have a problem.
You make shallow and uninformed calls to love the oppressed. We need to love Muslims, you say. We need to love Black people, we need to love LGBTQ+ people because they are our siblings, they are family. However, in the very next breath, you pass off false information, toss off stereotypes, hold off from helping the people you just called “family.”
You say, “But I have never done a racist/Islamophobic/sexist act.” And you talk amongst yourselves, convinced that agreeing about love is the same thing as loving.
I’ve gone to one church every Sunday since the day I was adopted. When I was a kid, I was “forced” to be there – it wasn’t really how I wanted to spend my Sunday mornings, but it wasn’t the worst thing in the world either. By the end of high school, however, I was showing up for people, people I liked. This church had become my home.
It felt safe.
And then it didn’t.
The church split, and suddenly I was an outcast. Granted, I have privilege because I’m a man and because of my last name. (My family has a long history in this church.) But I noticed some things. I’m almost always one of the only people of color in the room. I hear people say how safe they want to be for all different kinds of people. But people like me – and lots of other people who aren’t like me but who are also on the margins – they keep getting pushed out.
I haven't sought to speak in the storm, because I am not rain, nor wind, nor shaking earth or crashing waves. I find my giftings in other places, much like the gentle breeze in 1 Kings that causes Elijah to emerge from the cave because he knows it is God.
And so it is with this image that my spirit resonates, thinking of myself as a breeze that caresses each and every person and calls them to know their Belovedness--and to cast off all that holds back from this Knowing. This is the tender compassion the Lord has given to me--one that seeks to protect the space for the journey of healing in each and every one of us, for we have all experienced trauma and fragmentation in our spirits.
More often than not, folks who say they want unity don’t want the hard work that comes with making it a reality. We’ve seen, for example, political leaders and private citizens alike from across the country respond to the phrase “Black Lives Matter!” with “All Lives Matter! Why are you dividing people by race? We need to come together! All lives are important!” Yet we know that historically, Black lives have not mattered, so responding with “all lives matter” seeks to simply erase the trauma and historical experiences of Black people.
This kind of unity – the kind that asks marginalized voices to stop making people uncomfortable – is not unity.
In my dreams I am frequently met with all manner of bodily calamity – teeth falling out, piping hot lava, exhaling steam pipes swallowing me up in fine, chalky mist. These dreams have been accelerating lately – there have always been zombies, but now they’re butcher-proof, the triggers on my pistols don’t work or the barrels spray only water.
I would be surprised if this back-order of spontaneous nightmares had nothing to do with November's election, or with the wider climate of fear and hatred that seems to be growing around us. I recently preached on the marked increase of hate crimes affecting Muslim, immigrant, and LGBTQ communities since the election. In December, our Japanese Americans in Chicago held a press conference with Arab and Muslim American groups condemning recent rhetoric seeking to justify a mass detention or profiling of these groups on the basis that, well, “we did it to those Japs.”
I love to dance. Specifically, I love to dance salsa and merengue. I’ve been dancing for as long as I can remember. It’s a form of self-care and healing for me, and I’ve spent many nights dancing alone in my bedroom. (It’s not as sad it sounds, I swear.)
This love of dance comes from my family. I was always my mother’s dance partner at our family parties, and from a young age, my dad instilled in me a love for salsa, exposing me to the giants of the genre like Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón, and of course, my queen, Celia Cruz.
I didn’t learn all of the formal steps until this last year, actually, when I was given a brief salsa lesson in addition to instructions for a protest that I was a part of. I was participating in a "Salsa Shutdown" organized by Movimiento Cosecha, an immigrant-led organization that is working for the permanent protection of undocumented people in this country. The Salsa Shutdown was a means of showing the consumer power of immigrants.
White supremacy is the foundational organizing principle of American public life, and for centuries has held the distinction of being the most consistent animating force in our national history. This reality affects every social institution, certainly including our most visible Christian gatherings. In the Christian tradition, we see this problem in both "multiethnic churches” and in more progressive Emergent circles to the point where people of color are actually emotionally hesitant to participate in these communities, or are sidelined when they do. Although the structural racism embedded in these spaces—whiteness—is an enormous stumbling block, relatively simple changes can be put into motion to make it less lethal at your progressive Christian gathering.