Author Archives: Martha Spong

About Martha Spong

Writer. Clergy Coach. United Church of Christ pastor. Executive Director & Social Media Minister @RevGalBlogPals. Wife to a wife. Mom of four. Knitter. Editor of There's a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).

The Pastoral is Political: Squad Goals

elizabeth-warren-tweetThere were plenty of things about what happened to the Honorable Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, that got under my skin:

  • the way the old boys called her out to protect their friend and colleague,
  • the racist history of the nominee she opposed,
  • the fact that they silenced her while she read a letter by the late Coretta Scott King.

Yet nothing about it frustrated me more than looking at the list of the senators who voted to silence her by a count of 49-43. The senator we used to call “moderate” and “reasonable,” “centrist” and a great representative of my former home state of Maine, was on that list of 49. Susan Collins was not the only woman to vote to silence her colleague, but it was her name that lit my fuse. If women won’t let women do their work, what chance do we have of getting men to let us do it?

You see, it was not too long ago that a female colleague silenced me by hijacking the end of a meeting.

The circumstances were less public, but the assumption that a different voice should take priority was identical. Surprised, I did not try to get the attention of the gathering again. Cable news was not waiting for me outside the Senate chamber, as was the case for Senator Warren, but friends expressed their annoyance at what had transpired. I later learned that she doubted my capacity to lead the group simply because I did not match her assumptions about leaders. I was not tall, or loud, or strong.

It’s true that I am neither loud nor tall.

It’s also true that it’s not the first time that while leading this ministry, designed to offer resources and community for women in ministry, I have been undercut by a female colleague who made a remark about my height or my voice. I expect that kind of nonsense from men; a (tall) male colleague once joked that I should stand on a chair to be seen in a room full of pastors at a denominational meeting. Did he intend to undercut what I planned to say, or was he just horsing around? It didn’t matter. In that case I had a reputation, and others listened. In this more recent case, I must admit, I had to ponder the meaning of what I had been told. Why do women apply a standard to each other drawn from a masculine model for leadership, a model of height and volume as the measure of power and strength?

Sisters, we need to do better.

In a season when the world is in turmoil, and the church has struggles of its own, we have important work to do on behalf of Jesus Christ. We need to encourage, embolden, and inspire one another.

If I could, I would declare these our squad goals:

  • to elicit leadership that is not modeled on the tropes of white, straight, cis patriarchy;
  • to kindle more networks that highlight the effective and faithful work of women;
  • to exhibit respect for voices and accents that may not sound like ours; for energy that may not be on the same wavelength as ours; for strength that may derive from patience, intellect, warmth, and perhaps particularly persistence.

I continue to ponder the negating description offered to me. Although an intended compliment followed on the opening salvo, it never had a chance of landing. You don’t lift a sister up by putting her down first.

And you might miss something important if you impose the power of your voice, or your vote, to end the conversation.


Martha Spong is the Executive Director of RevGalBlogPals, a writer, and a clergy coach. She stands 5′ tall, knits socks for anyone who asks for a pair, and is a verified ecclesiastical badass. Follow her on Twitter @marthaspong.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: The Pastoral is Political | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Intersectionality and the Women’s March

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion in our Facebook group about intersectionality and the Women’s March held last Saturday. Today we’re sharing excerpts from posts by members of our community, with their permission.

alicia-crosby

Alicia Crosby

Alicia Crosby, Co-Founder at the Center for Inclusivity in Chicago, blogs at Chasing the Promise, where you can read more.

I’m not attending a women’s march today because I’m tired of being expected to show up for things that don’t take all my identities or that of the people I love into account. I’m tired of how non-intersectional feminism works to erase my story and force me to identify with femininity that does not work with or for my black queerness.

Some of you are conscious of this and are marching for your rights, the identities you hold, and for your sisters and femme siblings who too often find their voices silenced or shouted over in space that works to uphold a vision of white, middle class narrative of womanhood, femininity and feminism. 

But others of you need to be reminded that possessing an ethic centering women is not monolithic in nature and there are women who don’t feel safe, valued, or acknowledged in your midst…


anne-dunlaps-march-buttons

Anne Dunlap’s buttons

Anne Dunlap, a United Church of Christ pastor and activist, marched in Denver, where she received this response to her buttons at the march.

It’s not even 9am and I’ve already gotten an “all lives matter.” From a white woman. In a pussy hat. Please, white women, learn about intersectionality. Our work is incomplete and even harmful without it.

#collectiveliberation #womensmarch #blacklivesmatter #nothereforwhitefeminism

 


Kwame Pitts, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor who blogs at Trybal Pastor, marched in Chicago. She shared her thoughts, both misgivings and hopes, last week via Facebook Live video.

.


Maggie's view

Maggie’s view

Maggie Jorgensen, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) who marched in Cleveland, got pushback on this post when she shared it in a Pantsuit Nation successor group.

Reflection on the (white) woman’s march: it seemed like a party or a social event. I thought about Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter. Women there are putting their LIVES on the line. We just wore cute hats, carried fancy signs and saw our friends. We had nothing on the line. My hope is that we will listen to our friends of color, we will follow their leadership, we will go to their protests, we will support them with our lives.


Wil Gafney, Episcopal priest and Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, reminded us:

Not all folk are equally imperiled in this nation. Not all folk are equally targeted by the new administration. Any work that doesn’t start with these truths is not justice work.


erin-counihan-womens-march-st-louis

Erin and friends at the St. Louis march

Erin Counihan, a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor who marched in St. Louis, responded to praise for how “peaceful” the marches were.

It is easy to protest “peacefully” when the full weight of government and society aren’t standing on your neck. We white, straight, cis women have no business “celebrating” how “peaceful” it was yesterday. That’s our privilege talking. And we need to recognize that.

 

 


Katie Mulligan

Katie Mulligan

Katie Mulligan, a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor in New Jersey, offers some post-March thoughts about the commitment needed in learning to do anti-racist work.

“Don’t shame the first steps of resistance.”

Look. Don’t spend a lot of energy being defensive.

Listen to the critique.

If it applies to you or stings a little, quietly do some self-reflection.
Change course as needed.

If it doesn’t apply to you, then water off a duck, carry on.
You’ll find out soon enough if you were right about that.

It isn’t news that white women are late to the party. It isn’t even really news to you, which is why you’re feeling shame.

Just nod and say, “Ok, yeah.” And do better.

And for the record, there is no magical point where you don’t fuck up anymore. You’re not going to get there. But it’s for sure that the deeper you get into this, the sharper the critique. So practice resilience.


And I wrote this for our Weekly e-Reader before the march:

Some voices say that we cannot afford to be so hard on each other in a time when there are forces we must resist, but I would amend that.

We cannot afford to forget each other in a time when there are forces we must resist. We must remember that there are life experiences and points of view different from our own, open conversation instead of assuming it will arise, inviterelationship instead of taking it for granted. The responsibility to act always lies with those of us who benefit from privilege, whether it derives from our race, our level of education, our economic advantage, our orientation, our gender identity, our ability, or our religious identification.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.

Our discussion of Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim, by Sabeeha Rehman (Arcade Publishing, 2016, available in hardcover or for e-readers), will begin next Wednesday, February 1.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , | 1 Comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: “Waking Up White” wrap-up

wuwcoverfinal-200x300We’re wrapping up our discussion of “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving this week. You are invited to reflect on the questions here, or at our Facebook group, or to join us for a Zoom video chat at 2 p.m. Eastern (US) today.

We commend to you the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s new resource developed to be used with the book, particularly appropriate for groups reading together, which you may find here.

Discussion Questions:

  • Irving writes, “Self-examination and the courage to admit to bias and unhelpful inherited behaviors may be our greatest tools for change. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to expose our ignorance and insecurities takes courage.” (p. 249) What bias or inherited behavior have you noted while reading the book?
  • While reading Irving’s book, have you noticed any difference in the way you read/listen to the news?
  • What impact would it have on your family’s history if benefits accorded to white people (lending practices, the G.I. Bill are two instances) had been available to everyone equally? To no one?
  • Irving’s book was published in 2014. Do you think things have gotten better or worse where race is concerned in the United States?
  • What if anything do you feel called to do differently after reading “Waking Up White?” Consider the “Tell Me What to Do” section at the end of the book.
  • Any other thoughts or questions? You are welcome to leave a comment.

  • The next two books in our discussion series will be:
    • Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim, by Sabeeha Rehman (Arcade Publishing, 2016, available in hardcover or for e-readers) – first discussion post on Wednesday, February 1st.
    • An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation, by Nyasha Junior (Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, available in paperback or for e-readers) – discussion beginning mid-March.
  • We welcome submissions to be published in this Wednesday slot in the coming months on the subject of anti-racism work. We will consider opinion pieces, personal narratives, and stories about effective anti-racism work being done in or by pastors and/or churches. Published pieces should be in the 600-800 word range. Please email Martha at revgalblogpals@gmail.com with your query.

Much of our conversation has taken place not here on the blog but in our Facebook group; if you are not a member, you may join by clicking here.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Upcoming Books, Video Chat

51r-dh3ruhl-_sx332_bo1204203200_We’re taking a break in our book study this week to let you know what’s coming next in our anti-racism work.

  • The next two books in our discussion series will be:
    • Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim, by Sabeeha Rehman (Arcade Publishing, 2016, available in hardcover or for e-readers) – first discussion post on Wednesday, February 1st.
    • An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation, by Nyasha Junior (Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, available in paperback or for e-readers) – discussion beginning mid-March.
  • 51slkq5zcnl-_sx331_bo1204203200_We will conclude our discussion of Waking Up White next week with a video chat discussion of the book. Mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 18, at 2 p.m. Eastern time, and email Martha at revgalblogpals@gmail.com to ask for a link to the Zoom meeting.
  • We welcome submissions to be published in this Wednesday slot in the coming months on the subject of anti-racism work. We will consider opinion pieces, personal narratives, and stories about effective anti-racism work being done in or by pastors and/or churches. Published pieces should be in the 600-800 word range. Please email Martha your query.
  • Do you have a book to suggest for our series? A website or article you think we ought to be highlighting? An anti-racism event we could promote? Again, please email Martha at revgalblogpals@gmail.com; your input is much appreciated.

Much of our conversation has taken place not here on the blog but in our Facebook group; if you are not a member, you may join by clicking here.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | 1 Comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 8

“Do I remain a bystander and stay silent? Or do I become an ally and ask the hard questions about how this might affect the range of people in our community or organization? Do I dare ask explicitly if it will further advantage white people while simultaneously disadvantaging people of color? Do I dare suggest that because we are a group of all or mostly white people, we cannot possibly be thinking and acting on behalf of those who are not living the white experience?”  Waking Up White, p. 220

wuwcoverfinal-200x300In the section “Outer Work,” Debby Irving lays out some ways for white people to alter our external behavior in order to live as allies to people of color. She draws a comparison to bullying; we may try to dissuade bullies or empower their victims, but no real change is going to come as long as bystanders simply stand by and let it happen. Many of us may be comfortable in the role of bystander, able to convince ourselves that we are doing nothing actively racist, but also not doing anything to intervene in the systemic racism we observe. Irving gives the lie to the notion that there is such a thing as neutral, quoting Coretta Scott King, “even a lack of will power to help humanity is a sick and sinister form of violence.” (p. 220) She reminds the reader that we need to be aware of our place in things, to use our influence in white-dominated systems, while understanding that in this work, “the white role is a supporting one, not a leading one.” (p. 221)

That supporting role isn’t just playing second chair in an orchestra; it’s offering support through willingness to admit mistakes and move toward people instead of passively waiting for them to come to us. Irving offers an example from her own life. There was the embarrassing day when she called her daughter’s teammate by the name of the one other black student on the team while talking to the student’s mother. Knowing the historic pain of mistaken identity, and aware of her “own-race bias,” she called the other mom and apologized. Yes, she could just as easily have confused two white girls with ponytails, as her husband suggested, but it mattered to name it and be accountable. She also shares a story told by Vernā Myers about white lawyers avoiding an Asian colleague because they were not sure how to pronounce his name; they didn’t want to be impolite! (That sounds pretty lame to me, yet not a surprising excuse.) Myers points out that for people of color, learning white culture is something they just have to do. Click this link for a TED Talk with more from Myers.

And then there’s tolerance. Many years ago, a lesbian friend told me, “I would rather be hated than tolerated.” As a queer, married pastor living in a conservative area, I get this. Irving urges us toward a paradigm shift, “from assimilation (my way or the highway) or differentiation (let’s celebrate our differences) to integration – the more mature understanding that differences are powerful tools that can be used to strengthen the whole.” (p. 229) Some people would rather not know what a queer pastor could bring to the church’s ministry, or a black teacher to the lives of all children, or an Asian lawyer to the collective wisdom of a law firm, or a female politician to – well. Irving asks a particularly poignant question in light of recent political events in the U.S:

“The idea of cultivating and drawing on multiple competencies seems to me the very essence of humanity: discovering and using all our tools to maximize the potential of the group and its individuals. What if instead of ‘winner take all’ in a world of haves and have nots, a society of thriving people expanded the pie for everyone?” (p. 230)

In the chapter, “Listening,” Irving comes full circle when she learns that the leafy, green, and very white suburb in which she was raised has an effective Multicultural Network. She attends a town-wide forum and recognizes the good work being done through grass roots efforts quite the opposite of the top-down system familiar from her childhood. They did it by listening to each other, which draws through another thread from earlier in the book, that of discomfort with silence.

Talking seemed hard, too. How would Irving transition from the nice woman she had been taught she must be to an outspoken activist? A class on challenging racism helped her find a voice.

“Far from my old understanding — that conversations serve as a stage on which to prove one’s self-worth through witty banter, biographical data, or the recall of facts — authentic dialogues about race (or another complex idea, for that matter) make mutual learning, not winning or losing, the goal.” (p. 239)

  1. Can you look back and remember a time you were a bystander to racism? Can you imagine a way to change the script from that experience?
  2. Not too long ago in a group of several dozen clergy, I heard a white colleague call a black colleague by the wrong name. The two had distinct physical differences (height, features, hairstyle, clothing, voices). I heard a soft rumble that echoed by own murmur: “That’s ____.” But no one called out, stood up, spoke loudly, except the person called by the wrong name. What would you have done?
  3. Irving confesses her past limited understanding of the value of diversity, seeing people of color as “a bridge to their race.” Have you seen a system changed by embracing a fully integrated understanding?
  4. In this section, Irving offers five categories of “Outer Work.” We can stop being bystanders and become allies. We can join in solidarity with accountability. We can move past tolerance to active engagement with people who are different from us. We can listen. And we can get used to talking – in normal tones – about race. Which feels hardest to you? Which, if any, feels like a place you could start?

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group! If you are interested in a video chat discussion of the book, mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 18, at 2 p.m. Eastern time, and email Martha at revgalblogpals@gmail.com to ask for a link to the Zoom meeting.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 5

Where were all the black moms and children? Three blocks from my house sat Rindge Towers, three enormous subsidized apartment buildings full of families of color. Why weren’t we going to the same playground? Were they, like the First Night boy, uncomfortable around crowds of white people? Were my friends off-putting to them? Was I? How could I be scary to anyone? – Debby Irving, Waking Up White (p. 122)

Debby Irving and I are about the same age, and while I grew up in the South, I raised my children in Portland, Maine. This week’s section of the book deals with her parenting and teaching years, her conflicting desires to see her children experience a more diverse community than she knew growing up while she still had not confronted the systemic racism that advantaged her and them. These chapters are painful to read, in part because Irving unspools her own awakening at an excruciatingly slow pace and in part because they remind me of my own parenting experiences.

lucy-2006

When my youngest finished 5th grade in 2006, the school had some racial diversity, as seen in student self-portraits, but the kids who won citizenship medals at the 5th grade assembly were all white.

All three of my children attended the same elementary school in Portland, noteworthy at the time my oldest started kindergarten in 1991 for having the most socio-economic diversity among elementary schools in that small city. There were two classes in each grade, and it became apparent quickly that the kids who came on a bus from a more urban neighborhood were in one class along with the apartment-dwellers from closer by, while the kids of professional parents who lived in single-family homes in a charming neighborhood of dead-end streets would end up in the other.

I volunteered in the classroom regularly, and one day a teacher confided to me, “The mothers who live in the nice neighborhood across the street have a kaffeeklatsch every year and decide which teachers to request in each grade. I don’t know why I am never on their list.”

Portland was so white at the time that the issue was not one of race, but of class. (Racial diversity would increase due to immigration in the coming decades.) I didn’t need to hear it twice to figure out that the moms who lived in what I came to call “the Country Club” were taking advantage of a secret pact with the principal. If they got what they wanted, they supplied needed volunteer power.

I wonder how I would have felt if I hadn’t been aware of my “difference,” living in a rented two-family house on the other side of “the tracks?” Would requesting have seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do? I remember feeling I had nothing in common with the “Country Club” moms, but I also felt different from the moms on the playground who had not been to college.

 

 

Though I had made a shift from wanting to help and fix people of color to wanting to develop my own ‘diversity’ skills, I didn’t get how problematic my approach still was. far from the important work of understanding systemic racism and its impact on my life outcomes and perspective, my new aim was to understand some magical set of cross-racial manners. (p. 126)

In the elementary school her children attended, Irving began to interrogate the outcomes for children of color, particularly boys. The way she tells her stories allows a reader whose experience is similar, or who perhaps hasn’t reached similar moments of recognition, get to understanding at a moderate pace, but is admittedly frustrating to me. For instance, I cringed at her initial reaction to concerns about the Halloween parade (p. 139). How could you live in a diverse community like Cambridge, with immigrants who are not Christian, and never consider that newcomers’ religious practices might differ from those of white, quasi-Christian American ones?

Chapter 26, “Surviving Versus Thriving,” describes the work of Jane Elliott, who began teaching students about discrimination in response to the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I want to point out that Irving and I are both in the age bracket Elliott began with, before moving on to conduct similar work with adults. (Read more about her work here.) The temporary reaction she elicited from subjects of her exercises are of course only a tiny fraction of the kind of psychic and physiological response to the stress of discrimination experienced by People of Color on a daily basis. The story of Jared in chapter 27 illustrates how the system of discrimination prepares children to think of themselves as naturally successful or doomed.

White friends, Irving concludes this section by identifying herself as the elephant in the room when it comes to conversations about race. Her background, education, and social expectations made difficult conversations seem impossibly embarrassing. How do we find a way to be vulnerable without being fragile, to be humble about our ignorance without asking our friends of color to do our work for us?

  1. As a person raised to believe there was etiquette for every situation, though mine with a Virginia flavor, I cringed with recognition many times throughout this section. Irving asks us to explore the rules we have for social interaction and examine how they might hamper authentic conversation and relationship. Can you name some basic social rules that go back to your childhood?
  2. If, like me, you cringed, what was the passage that made you want to write, “No!” or “Ouch!” or “Aargh!” in the margins?
  3. What expectations did you have for your life as a second-grader?
  4. Can you name a time when you recognized you had an unearned/undeserved advantage?

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group! If you are interested in a video chat discussion of the book, mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 18, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Details will be available in the New Year.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 3

This week in our discussion of Debby Irving’s Waking Up White, we address Section 3, “Why Didn’t I Wake Up Sooner?” Irving builds the case that as white Americans, we lack a vocabulary for race. We have been encouraged, sometimes consciously and other times unconsciously, to identify others *by* their race while considering ourselves to be outside those categories.

Not having a label for white people reinforced for me the idea that white populations are the norm, raceless and ethnicity-less. (p. 89)

When the culture is designed to set us off to advantage, of course we look good, like my late mother-in-law, who filled her home with dim lighting that did not accentuate her aging complexion, sort of a whole-house filter on the lens of life. Media colludes by amplifying the “normal” that is really cultural supremacy, so unless we hear the stories of other people whose lives are different than ours, we may have no idea what goes on in the world they inhabit. To illustrate this, Irving relates the story of a black woman who is told the local store does not take checks, when they accept them regularly from her white husband.

We are selective in what we see. Can we put ourselves in the place of a grocery shopper trying to reach an upper shelf from her wheelchair?

Privilege is a strange thing in that you notice it least when you have it most. (p. 71)

White people (or able-bodied people or straight people) have to understand discrimination in order to understand our privilege. Irving recommends watching the video, True Colors, broadcast on ABC in 1991. Upon seeing it in a class in 2010, she assumed things had improved, but classmates pushed back.

UCC Clergywomen in Arizona

UCC Clergywomen in Arizona

In the chapter “Zap!” Irving relates a conversation about the use of titles and formality as a sign of respect, specifically in relation to calling President Obama “President” rather than simply using his surname. Would she have called a white President only by his last name? I know I have done it both ways, depending on how I felt about whichever president was in question, but that I have been inclined to always use President Obama’s title. The importance of acknowledging the titles of people whose race might otherwise “allow” for disrespect was trained into me by my parents, yet my own approach is “casual privileged,” much like Irving’s. I encourage parishioners, even children, to call me by my first name with no title, so I was surprised when keynoting at an event for clergywomen in my denomination to hear the other keynoters referred to by attendees as “Rev. Traci” and “Dr. Sharon,” and to hear them say “Rev. Martha” to me. I have served in overwhelmingly white geographic areas, and it was a new thing for me to attend and speak at a much more racially inclusive event. I quelled the urge to say, “Just call me Martha” and paid attention to the way I referred to others in that context.

Family and national history are both formed by who is telling the stories. I am made aware weekly if not daily that there are parts of our national history I was not taught and have not learned, despite thinking of myself as widely-read and well-informed. We have different levels of education, from 4th grade state history to undergraduate majors to just tuning into “Drunk History” on Comedy Central to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda. And we can be inclined to invent our own histories for other people based on our limited knowledge, as if we are all logos or stereotypes. Irving encourages us to deconstruct those stereotypes, to listen to the stories of others in the first person and not dismiss them. In this time when “identity politics” is being maligned, it’s more important than ever to be active in this work.

  1. In what ways have you considered white culture to be above or outside categories of race?
  2. Think about your family’s typical Thanksgiving menu. Do you know its history? Do you figure everyone everywhere eats the same meal? My life has been opened wide by seeing black friends post about their Thanksgiving dinners. Check out the hashtag #blackfamilyThanksgiving on Facebook or Twitter.
  3. Where do you get your information about American history? Have you ever learned more about something you thought you knew well, only to discover that your “truth” was distorted?
  4. Have you recently read a first-person narrative by a person of color, describing his or her life? What did you learn?

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group!


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White

wuwcoverfinal-200x300The next book for our anti-racism book discussion will be Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving (Elephant Room Press, 2014).

We’ll start our conversations next Wednesday, November 16, with the first section, “Childhood in White,” which comprises the first five chapters of the book. The discussions will be led by Martha Spong, Julia Seymour, and Teri Peterson.

This is the book also recommended by the two RevGals who are also Co-Moderators of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rev. Denise Anderson and Rev. Jan Edmiston, so we hope many of our members will be interested in discussing the book.

We’re going to offer some opportunities for online video chat about the book. If you would like to participate, leave a comment.

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RevGals Anti-Racism Project: “Trouble I’ve Seen,” Conclusion

Trouble I've SeenWe’ve come to the final chapter and epilogue of Drew G.I. Hart’s Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism (Herald Press, 2016).

In the last chapter – “Where Do We Go From Here?” – Dr. Hart suggests seven anti-racist practices for the church:

  • Share life together – “The practice of sharing life together has everything to do with no longer allowing the racial hierarchy to pattern our social lives, manage our geographic movements, shape identities of superiority and inferiority, or interpret one another through white supremacist and antiblack gazes. We are free to follow Jesus into forbidden spaces we were socialized to avoid, spaces in which we previously believed we didn’t belong.”
  • Practice solidarity in the struggle – “…explore what is already happening in your region rather than trying to start something new. It is too easy to try to be saviors when in reality we are just allowing our egos to operate. We need to come alongside good people already doing good work.”
  • See the world from below – “People need to put their bodies in places where they are going to slowly learn to see things that they would never see otherwise. The secret that followers of Jesus find along the journey is that the view from below, rather than above, offers a better position from which to see what God is up to.
  • Subvert racial hierarchy in the church – “…the community’s life must yield itself to the concerns of those historically excluded. It means that things like job descriptions, church food and meal choices, book selections, curriculum structures, money allocation, meeting times, and the composition of decision-making groups like the church board must be radically reconfigured.”
  • Soak in Scripture and the Spirit for renewed social imagination – “God is not neutral in the midst of human suffering and oppression…And the evidence of lives yielded to the Spirit and soaked in Scripture will always be lives that are Jesus-shaped.
  • Seek first the kingdom of God – “The church will joyfully sell all the ugliness of racialized hierarchy, sexist patriarchy, and selfish classism when we find the true treasure in the field.”
  • Engage in self-examination – “Each of us must engage in some soul-searching and self-examination. No one in America is untouched by the currents of rival bias and white supremacy.”

Readers, what think you? Would this book be of help in a discussion of racism in your church? Would it change views? Could you work on or toward these seven practices? I welcome your responses in the comments here or in our Facebook group.

The next book for our anti-racism book discussion will be Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving (Elephant Room Press, 2014). We’ll start our conversations on Wednesday, November 16, with posts here and in our Facebook group. This is the book also recommended by two RevGals, Jan Edmiston and Denise Anderson, in their roles as Co-Moderators of the Presbyterian Church (USA), so we hope many of our members will be interested in discussing the book. We’re also going to offer some opportunities for online video chat; please comment here if you might like to participate, or email me (revgalblogpals@gmail.com). 


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: “Trouble I’ve Seen,” Week 8

immigration-chart

200 Years of Immigration – click here for the interactive chart

“The more that white people killed and displaced Native Americans, the more they sought to shackle and bring over black bodies. The presence of the original hosts of the land constituted a threat to white identity and the sense of America as a ‘white country.'” Drew G.I. Hart, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism (p. 145)

In Chapter 8, “Renouncing Every Hierarchy,” Dr. Drew Hart calls on the reader to examine and challenge not only racial hierarchy but all the “human-constructed hierarchies that exist in our communities. This is so that, as God’s people, we can live more and more into the new humanity of Christ.” (p. 146) He continues to make the case that we are called as Christians to live Jesus-shaped lives incompatible with white supremacy, but in this chapter he expands his view to include hierarchical bias against racial groups beyond black Americans, as well as the effects of sexism and classism in American culture. In each case he warns that as Christians we must “resist all types of lording over others.” (p. 146)

Hart begins with the treatment of Native Americans, and the persistent ongoing betrayals by white Americans in the form of treaties and covenants broken. He describes his own dawning understanding of the relationship between the black experience and the Native American experience. Then, drawing on the work of Katelin Hansen, David Park, and Jonathan Tan, Hart explores the bias Asian Americans face, in society and in the church. Why, even after generations, are Asian Americans treated as “other?” He particularly mentions the evangelical church, but we will want to look at our mainline denominations as well. In relation to current immigration standards and conversations about Hispanic people who want to come to the United States, Hart urges us to ask “Jesus-shaped questions: Does the law please God? Does the law reflect the inbreaking kingdom of Christ?” (p. 149)

Where sexism is concerned, Hart tells the story of a college professor who opened his eyes to the way Jesus saw women through an exploration of Luke’s anointing woman.

“I saw Jesus centralizing this woman while scolding a religious man who had clear social standing…From that point forward, I began to see that Jesus was doing something radical in his society, challenging patriarchal expectations and limitation of women in a manner I had not known or been taught.” (p. 152)

renisha-mcbride

#SayHerName

Hart notes that even within minority communities, women are oppressed, and that the double identification of black woman is a deeper disadvantage. He explores the story of Renisha McBride, shot and killed by a white man when she asked for help after a car accident in 2013, but he also notes that the deaths of black women do not get the same attention or level of protest as those of black men. He names the courage of black women in our history who organized, supported, and participated in the civil rights movement.

As he moves into a discussion of gendered and class privilege, Hart loses me for the first time in the book. In 2016, a book interrogating oppression that goes beyond anti-black racism to include people of other heritages, and then to lift up gender and class discrimination, but does not give equal weight to homophobia is missing not only an important factor in life today, but also a crucial area of misused power and prejudice on the part of the church. Hart writes, after naming how white men may not see that their experience is unique,

“Similarly, individuals can be women or part of the LGBTQ community and experience discrimination in some areas of their lives but participate in and benefit from dominant culture, forgetting other social realities beyond their own.” (p. 157)

While this is true – as a queer person, I am readily able to name my own privilege (white, well-educated, raised upper-middle class, frankly passing for straight most of the time unless I name my queerness) – I take issue with the generalized dismissal, because the book otherwise forgets the sisters and brothers in Christ who are less advantaged, including poor LGBTQ+ youth, queer women of color who face particular bias in the church, and trans people of all ages and races, to name a few.

226a7950518819cbf1433d4c86571acfThe rest of the chapter goes on to make a familiar case, that white supremacy also depends on white male supremacy. Hart urges the reader to keep Jesus at the center of our lives and “embrace God’s beloved community as equals in Christ.” (p. 165)

Some of this week’s discussion questions are taken from Herald Press’s excellent discussion guide.

  1. Native Americans were forcibly removed from the same land that African people were forcibly brought to. How might this effect the interplay between these groups today?
  2. Hart writes, “More often than not, dominant-culture Christians describe undocumented immigrants as ‘illegal aliens’ and ‘anchor babies,’ rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ.” (p. 150) Does this reflect your experience in the church? If not, does it cause you to question your own experience as being non-dominant? How can Christians outside the mainstream affect the language being identified as “Christian?”
  3. Are you familiar with the hashtag, #SayHerName? Where have you seen it? What stories do you associate with it?
  4. What work have you done to understand the experience of oppressed people?
  5. How do you see “The Myth of the Superior White Male Figure” at work in your church or community? How can you work to undo it?

Find our post about Chapter 1 here,  our post about Chapter 2 hereour post about Chapter 3 hereour post about Chapter 4 hereour post about Chapter 5 hereour post about Chapter 6 here, and our post about Chapter 7 here. Join the conversation here or in our Facebook group.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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