I recently met up with a friend of mine who is a pastor at a church. “Please help us!” he said. “My congregation is reeling after the murder of George Floyd. We don’t know how to talk about race with each other. We know that we should do something around diversity issues but we don’t know what to do!” I replied with this question: “Why do you want to do this work?” He grew silent, looking around the room, trying to come up with an answer. He was drawing a blank. Embarrassed at this realization, he also added this, “I am being asked to fight a system that loves me back every day. That’s probably why my fight dies out quickly and I lose motivation.” My question for all of us is: What is the reason for engaging in this work that will sustain us when we are tempted to take our eyes off the prize?
My friend and intercultural consulting partner Joe Davis often says “If you know your ‘why’ there is no ‘how’ that you can’t overcome”. In our work with clients, one of our first questions we ask is “What is your ‘why’?” We know that if we can narrow in on their “skin in the game” that we will have motivated clients who will push through the discomfort that inevitably crops up when these topics are discussed and commit to long term change. Without motivation, the work will die out quickly.
“Cultural Intelligence” author David Livermore names what he calls “CQ Drive” as one of the four most important components of Cultural Intelligence (along with action, knowledge, and strategy). When I see highly motivated learners, I get so excited. I believe that is not “matter over mind”, but “mind over matter”. If this work matters enough to people, they won’t mind working on the skills of intercultural competence and antiracism. So, what are your reasons for engaging in this important work? Another way to ask it is this: “If you don’t do this work, what will happen to you and to those that you love.” Many people have trouble answering this question. My answer to this question has changed over time. However, here are a few reasons that I can give you right now for my continual engagement in Gospel-centered justice work:
Building Bridges Across Difference is Faithful to the Biblical Witness
We serve a God who crosses barriers to be in relationship with humanity and who invites us to do the same thing. It is very hard to read Peter and Paul’s awakening about God’s continual widening of the circle of “in” and “out” cultures and not want to participate in this same widening. When compelled by the power of the Holy Spirit, many of us become “repairers of the breach” and have our hearts broken for the same injustices that break God’s heart. For those of us in a Lutheran theological tradition, we are encouraged to “call a thing what it is” and work to address the systemic evils that are operating in our world using God’s compassionate liberating justice.
I Want my Black Nephews to Flourish
I was playing with my black nephew today in the street and the police drove by. I was keenly aware of how different my experiences are with the police than his. In fact, earlier this year someone had called the cops on him for “loitering” in front of a store as he and a few friends were eating snacks and talking. Thankfully nothing happened in the encounter with the officers or with the store owner who had called the cops on them. I don’t want to live in a neighborhood or in a world where his mom has to be fearful that he won’t come home to her alive because someone has misjudged him. I know that people who look like me and many of my friends have the potential to be the ones calling the police on children who look like him racially and potentially placing him in danger. I want to continue to educate myself and others so that I am a part of the solution and not the problem of violence against black and brown bodies.
Diversity is Best Practice
Whether it is biology, science, or theology, we know that more diversity is always more generative than homogeneity. I want to continue to foster relationships with people of diverse backgrounds because I want to see God and the world more fully. Without a “fusion of horizons” (Gadamer) with those who are different from me, I am looking at my own limited horizon and missing important pieces of life. When I have had the opportunity to serve on teams where diversity was recognized and valued, I have been able to see the Spirit work so beautifully. It is in these spaces where our particular ways of being made us a more effective team.
White Supremacy Culture is Harming Me and Others
In Tema Okun’s brilliant “Dismantling Racism” resource, she names many characteristics of white supremacy culture that are harmful to all of us. In my own life I have determined that my own perfectionism, isolationism, sense of urgency, right to comfort, and defensiveness have all gotten in the way of people experiencing God’s love through me. I want to unlearn those patterns that harm me and discover new Gospel-centered patterns. When I interrogate my relationships with people of color and try to show up better for them, I immediately also improve the ways that I show up for the rest of my friends and family.
I Don’t Want to Lose my own Humanity
Without actively working on metabolizing the racialized trauma that I have experienced as a white bodied person in a culture of dehumanizing racial violence and oppression, I will be at risk of accepting an ugly death dealing system that destroys bodies. The ability to compartmentalize and dissociate from the suffering of black and brown bodies causes a soul wound in me that is hard to heal from. Buying into the lie that we are independent from each other causes me to start accepting shameful disparities and being complicit in unequal outcomes. This inhumane treatment of God’s beloved will inevitably continue a cycle of trauma transmission that is dangerous for all of us. Resmaa Menakem says that trauma is either transformed or transmitted. I don’t want to pass on the trauma that I inherited, but find a way to heal it with others through prayerful somatic abolition work.
This is not an exhaustive list, but just a few of the reasons why I choose to engage in the work of antiracism and interculturality. I would love to hear from some of you. How has your church started this work? Why have you started this work? What are the barriers to sustaining these efforts? We need to continue to rely on the collective strength of our beloved community to stay the course. I would love to connect my stumped friend with some of you that are further along in your development to share your helpful practices. I believe that we have what it takes to do this work. God has placed a cloud of witnesses all around us. We are living into God’s future of shalom together. For now, we get to carry on with this reign of God rehearsal. Let’s keep rehearsing