Friday, June 12, 2020

Contemplation and Racism by Richard Rohr

The following post is a reprint of Richard Rohr's Daily Meditations for this week on racism.

Contemplation and Racism by Richard Rohr

Am I Next?
Sunday, June 7, 2020

During this time of social unrest, I invite you to sit with the powerful and uncomfortable emotions, such as anger or grief, that you may be carrying. Welcome them in the presence of God. As I often say, if we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it. Tragically, we are witnessing the results of centuries of unresolved racial violence in our collective body today.

As a white man in the United States, I humbly begin this week’s meditations on “Contemplation and Racism” by sharing the words of a woman of color in our own CAC community. Leslye Colvin is one of our Living School students and a member of our Daily Meditations team. In our time of ongoing disorder, Leslye asks, “Am I Next”?

Lord, have mercy.
George Floyd of Minnesota.
Your nation failed you.
Rest in God’s peace.
Kyrie eleison.

Christ, have mercy.
Breonna Taylor of Kentucky.
Your nation failed you.
Rest in God’s peace.
Christe eleison.

Lord, have mercy.
Ahmaud Arbery of Georgia.
Your nation failed you.
Rest in God’s peace.
Kyrie eleison.

Christ, have mercy.
Tony McDade of Florida.
Your nation failed you.
Rest in God’s peace.
Christe eleison.

Four people whom I never knew have been murdered. It is merely the tip of an iceberg. The details of each heinous act are so horrifically unjust that there is no sense to be made of them. Each of the four was victimized. Each of them was Black, but their race was not the cause of death. Each was murdered because of the systemic structures that endow white people with an unimaginable authority and privilege based on the perpetuation of lies. The onus is not on the victims but on the perpetrators and their oppressive and unjust systems.

There is also a realization that it could have been me. I could be laying cold and lifeless in the morgue because of a distorted perception of me rooted in lies. Maybe it will be me the next time—not because of who I am, but because of how you see me in relation to how you see yourself. What lies about me do you believe? What lies about yourself do you believe?

Reference:
“Am I Next,” Leslye Colvin, (June 2020). Used with permission.

The Unspoken Privilege of Being White
Monday, June 8, 2020

For a long time, I naively hoped that racism was a thing of the past. Those of us who are white have a very hard time seeing that we constantly receive special treatment [because of social systems built to prioritize people with white skin]. This systemic “white privilege” makes it harder for us to recognize the experiences of people of color as valid and real when they speak of racial profiling, police brutality, discrimination in the workplace, continued segregation in schools, lack of access to housing, and on and on. This is not the experience of most white people, so how can it be true? Now, we are being shown how limited our vision is.

Because we have never been on the other side, we largely do not recognize the structural access we enjoy, the trust we think we deserve, the assumption that we always belong and do not have to earn our belonging. All this we take for granted as normal. Only the outsider can spot these attitudes in us. [And we are quick to dismiss what is apparent to our neighbors who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color [BIPOC] from their lived experience.]

Of course, we all belong. There is no issue of more or less in the eyes of an Infinite God. Yet the ego believes the lie that there isn’t enough to go around and that for me to succeed or win, someone else must lose. And so we’ve greedily supported systems and governments that work to our own advantage at the expense of others, most often people of color or any highly visible difference. The advancement of the white person was too often at the cost of other people not advancing at all. A minor history course should make that rather clear.

I would have never seen my own white privilege if I had not been forced outside of my dominant white culture by travel, by working in the jail, by hearing stories from counselees and, frankly, by making a complete fool of myself in so many social settings—most of which I had the freedom to avoid!

Power [and privilege] never surrenders without a fight. If your entire life has been to live unquestioned in your position of power—a power that was culturally given to you, but you think you earned—there is almost no way you will give it up without major failure, suffering, humiliation, or defeat. As long as we really want to be on top and would take advantage of any privilege or short cut to get us there, we will never experience true “liberty, equality, fraternity” (revolutionary ideals that endure as mottos for France and Haiti).

If God operates as me, God operates as “thee” too, and the playing field is utterly leveled forever. Like Jesus, Francis, Clare, and many other humble mystics, we then rush down instead of up. In the act of letting go and choosing to become servants, community can at last be possible. The illusory state of privilege just gets in the way of neighboring and basic human friendship.

Reference:
Adapted from “Richard Rohr on White Privilege,” interview with Reverend Romal J. Tune (January 19, 2016). Available at https://sojo.net/articles/richard-rohr-white-privilege.


Contemplating Anger
Tuesday, June 9, 2020

I have learned to use my anger for good. . . . Without it, we would not be motivated to rise to a challenge. It is an energy that compels us to define what is just and unjust. —Gandhi

Today my colleague and CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes shares reflections on a “theology of anger.” Her words are challenging for white Americans like myself, but an important stage of contemplative solidarity is the ability to set aside our own opinions to listen with an open heart to the pain of the marginalized. I hope we can hear Dr. Holmes’s wisdom and desire for healing from the wounds of racism.

We all need a way to channel and reconcile our anger with our faith. . . . A theology of anger [for communities under siege] assumes that anger as a response to injustice is spiritually healthy. My intent is to highlight three ways that anger can contribute to spiritual restoration.

First, a theology of anger invites us to wake up from the hypnotic influences of unrelenting oppression so that individuals and communities can shake off the shackles of denial, resignation, and nihilism. . . . Second, a theology of anger can help us to construct healthy boundaries. Finally, the healthy expression of righteous anger can translate communal despair into compassionate action and justice-seeking. . . . The question is whether or not we will recognize our wounds and the source of our anger so that we can heal ourselves and others, and awaken to our potential to embody the beloved community. . . .

Collective and productive anger redirects our attention to the everyday survival and healing of our own community. . . Sometimes the anger of black folks is resistance but, more often, it is grief. During a demonstration in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after the police shot an unarmed black man [in 2016], Pastor Danny Givens of Above Every Name Ministry, publicly and peacefully challenged the Governor of Minnesota. He shouted into a microphone:

Your people keep killing my people. You keep telling me that you are going to do something. I just want you to put some action on it, put some respect on our people’s names. . . . This isn’t black anger. This is black grief! [1]

Pastor Givens wanted the governor to understand that grief, anger, and black joy are hard to separate. At funerals of young people slain by the police, expressions of black joy are common. This is not “joy” in the ordinary sense of the word. . . . This is the communal performance of resistance and resilience through dancing and rhythmic movement. Funeral-car doors fly open, music is thumping, and the community dances its defiance of death and the society that produces it.

We are angry, we are grieving, we are performing black joy as a sign of our determination to survive.

What is the anger and grief arising in you today? What actions of resilience and justice can you take?

References:
[1] Morgan Winsor and Julia Jacobo, “Pastor Shouts at Governor: ‘This Is Black Grief,’ After Police Shooting of Minnesota Man,” ABC News (July 7, 2016). Available at http://abcnews.go.com/US/pastor-challenges-minnesota-gov-put-action-cop-shooting/story?id=40406186

Barbara A. Holmes, “Contemplating Anger,” “Anger,” Oneing, vol. 6, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2018), 21, 24–25.

Epigraph:

Gandhi as quoted by Arun Gandhi in The Gift of Anger: And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi (Jeter Publishing: 2017), 18.

Unlearning Racism

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is an author, minister, and contemplative activist. The interview with CAC’s Daily Meditations editor Mark Longhurst, which we have excerpted here, was published in 2018, but his reflections on freedom from what he calls “slaveholder religion,” contemplation, and action are especially relevant today.

My journey toward freedom from slaveholder religion has been one of unlearning a hyper-individualized piety. [This is what I would call an obsession with our individual salvation project—RR] . . . I’ve had to learn that this is a spiritual version of the myth of the self-made man or woman that [the social systems that privilege] whiteness created.

Jonathan shares about his prayer practices and how the practice of confessing sin helps him dwell in solidarity with the marginalized:

We need relationships of accountability—spaces where we listen to black and brown folks say what actions are hurting them and their communities. Given the power imbalances in our society, confession for white folks really has to be something of a reverse confessional. It’s not the job of people who’ve suffered generational injustice to sit and listen to us. No, we’ve got to position ourselves to sit and listen to them. Then talk to one another about how we can unlearn implicit bias, leverage social privilege for the common good, and follow the leadership of impacted people working for systemic justice. The daily practice of confession is a radical act of listening.

Wilson-Hartgrove finds that communal spirituality and action for justice has helped liberate him from the individualistic, self-made myth of systemic whiteness:

[The] antidote [to hyper-individualized spirituality] is, in many ways, in the communal contemplative practices of the black-led freedom movement in America. I’m thinking about the prayer practices of song and shout in Pentecostal churches, of call and response in black Baptist preaching. There’s a mantra-like repetition in that experience of worship that is every bit as much contemplation as you find sitting in silence. In fact, it is a silence—a still point of complete simplicity—that’s beyond words. For me, I find that silence in the praise and testimony service at the St. John’s Baptist Church, and I find it singing and marching in the streets with the Poor People’s Campaign.

At the same time, Jonathan cherishes stillness, embodying a true “centering down,” in the words of Howard Thurman, that can take place just about anywhere.

The silence of the early morning is why I wake early. I can’t be myself without it. But as I grow in the life of faith, I feel more and more the connection between that silence and the silence at the center of [a mourning mother’s] cry—the silence of the down beat between the claps in a freedom song. There is a still point in the turning world, and we practice contemplation as we ground ourselves in that place, not apart from action, but in the center of it.

Reference:
Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, “Prayer, Action and Unlearning Racism,” interview with Mark Longhurst, Ordinary Mystic (May 29, 2019). Available at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/ordinarymystic/2019/05/jonathan-wilson-hartgrove-on-prayer-action-and-unlearning-racism/

Crisis Contemplation
Thursday, June 11, 2020

Apart from a few monastic orders, Western Christianity neglected the systematic instruction of contemplative practice for hundreds of years. Yet many people naturally grow into nondual consciousness through great suffering or great love. Barbara Holmes suggests that “crisis contemplation” arose out of necessity during slavery, beginning in the Middle Passage when people were transported across the ocean as human cargo. In times such as this, contemplation becomes the soul’s strategy of survival.

It was a community of sorts, yet each person lay in their own chrysalis of human waste and anxiety. More often than not, these Africans were strangers to each other by virtue of language, culture, and tribe. Although the names of their deities differed, they shared a common belief in the seen and unseen. The journey was a rite of passage of sorts that stripped captives of their personal control over the situation and forced them to turn to the spirit realm for relief and guidance. . . .

The word contemplation must press beyond the constraints of religious expectations to reach the potential for spiritual centering in the midst of danger. Centering moments accessed in safety are an expected luxury in our era. During slavery, however, crisis contemplation became a refuge, a wellspring of discernment in a suddenly disordered life space, and a geo-spiritual anvil for forging a new identity. This definition of contemplation is dynamic and situational. . . .

As unlikely as it may seem, the contemplative moment can be found at the very center of such ontological crises . . . during the Middle Passage in the holds of slave ships . . . on the auction blocks . . . and in the . . . hush arbors [where slaves worshipped in secret]. Each event is experienced by individuals stunned into multiple realities by shock, journey, and displacement. . . . In the words of Howard Thurman, “when all hope for release in this world seems unrealistic and groundless, the heart turns to a way of escape beyond the present order.” [1] For captured Africans, there was no safety except in common cause and the development of internal and spiritual fortitude. . . .

The only sound that would carry Africans over the bitter waters was the moan. Moans flowed through each wracked body and drew each soul toward the center of contemplation. . . . On the slave ships, the moan became the language of stolen strangers, the sound of unspeakable fears, the precursor to joy yet unknown. . . . One imagines the Spirit moaning as it hovered over the deep during the Genesis account of creation [Genesis 1:2]. Here, the moan stitches horror and survival instincts into a creation narrative. . . . The moan is the birthing sound, the first movement toward a creative response to oppression, the entry into the heart of contemplation through the crucible of crisis.

Indeed, we are hearing the echoing moan of black and brown communities today, crying out “How long, O Lord, must our people suffer?”

References:
[1] Howard Thurman, Deep River and the Negro Spiritual Speaks of Life and Death (Friends United: 1975), 29.

Adapted from Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 45–46, 50, 52.
Contemplation and Racism



Public Action and Contemplation
Friday, June 12, 2020

I was in the seminary when the Civil Rights movement transformed the political and cultural landscape of the United States. While I was more an observer than an active participant, I witnessed the courage and faith of the activists, not yet realizing that contemplation was often its source. Today Dr. Barbara Holmes describes the contemplative dimension present in the marching feet of civil rights activists.

The civil rights marches of the 1960s were contemplative—sometimes silent, sometimes drenched with song, but always contemplative. This may mean within the context of a desperate quest for justice that while weary feet traversed well-worn streets, hearts leaped into the lap of God. While children were escorted into schools by national guardsmen, the song “Jesus Loves Me” became an anthem of faith in the face of contradictory evidence. You cannot face German shepherds and fire hoses with your own resources; there must be God and stillness at the very center of your being. . . .

Like a spiritual earthquake, the resolve of the marchers affirmed the faith of foremothers and forefathers. Each step was a reclamation of the hope unborn. Each marcher embodied the communal affirmation of already/not yet sacred spaces. . . . The sacred act of walking together toward justice was usually preceded by a pre-march meeting that began with a prayer service, where preaching, singing, and exhortation prepared the people to move toward the hope they all held. This hope was carefully explicated by the leadership as a fulfillment of God’s promises. As a consequence, the movement that spilled from the churches to the streets was a ritual enactment of a communal faith journey toward the basileia [realm] of God. . . .

The end result was that a purportedly Christian nation was forced to view its black citizens as a prototype of the suffering God, absorbing violence into their own bodies without retaliation. By contrast, stalwart defenders of the old order found themselves before God . . . with fire hoses, whips, and ropes in their hands. The crisis created by contemplative justice-seeking guaranteed the eventual end of overt practices of domination, for domination could not withstand the steady gaze of the inner eye of thousands of awakened people.

The killing of George Floyd reminds us that cries for justice and equity continue today; awakened hearts and active bodies are needed to join the cause. Holmes affirms new, creative approaches today in the Movement for Black Lives and other groups led by young people, women, and people of color. I, Richard—like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—believe that “the arc of the universe bends toward justice,” [1] but it depends upon our participation. What is your work to do today to bend the universe a little more towards justice?

References:
[1] Martin Luther King, Jr. used these words (with slight changes) in essays and speeches from early 1958 to his last Sunday morning sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on March 31, 1968. See A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James Melvin Washington (HarperCollins: 1991), 52, 88, 207, 252, 277, 460.

Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 116–118.

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