Wednesday, June 06, 2007

CC and Revsparker say a quick hello

Chalicechick: Whaddup?
RevSparker: you ask good questions
Chalicechick: I try
RevSparker: i like that we're having the conversation
Chalicechick: Me too. I think there's a lot of tension about this stuff for reasons I don't completely understand. Not that racism isn't by its nature a tense subject culturally all around
RevSparker: remember, I've just taught a class completely deconstructing the modernist and racist roots of our tradition
ChaliceChick: I didn't remember.
RevSparker: So I have a lot of "back story"...That's what I did on sabbatical: a whole class on the Journey Toward Wholeness.
ChaliceChick: I see. I think everybody brings their own backstory to such discussions.
RevSparker: I got really convinced as we read through all the materials, essays, etc, that much of what we hold dear is part and parcel of our roots as a snobby, powerful, and often oppressive group, so I am trying to address that without being a total ass to people
ChaliceChick: I'd be interested in a post about post-modernism and reason, though I might argue with it.
RevSparker: if I can find the time... I'm not a true post modernist, but I am a critic of modernity.
ChaliceChick: Got it. Well, no pressure, but I, for one, am interested
RevSparker: The problem with so much of what we call "reason" is that it is predicated on an assumption of clear binaries where one side is of more value than the other: reason/intuition being one or reason/experience
ChaliceChick: I don't remember if I've ever directly told you that my dad is schizophrenic, but growing up like that is an excellent way to grow up to be a modernist.
RevSparker: wow. I bet
ChaliceChick: As you know, backstory all around.
RevSparker: yup
ChaliceChick: But yeah, though that's my reflex, I am trying to keep an open mind.
RevSparker: So for me, the way people defend rationality can seem a lot like a defense against acknowledging that our motives, words, etc. can be and often are racist...and that people experience them that way.
ChaliceChick: I don't think that's it. I think that's sometimes it, but I really don't see most of the people in this discussion that way.
RevSparker: We love to say "we didn't intend to be racist"but what about the people who experienced it that way?
I think we need to balance both.
ChaliceChick: It's so hard. I've observed some people attribute everything (Va tech shootings, for example) to racism, while I attribute everything to mental illness (Kramer's racist meltdown, for example.)
RevSparker: It seemed reasonable to me that changing the name of a lunch discussion was not going too far.
ChaliceChick: As I said, it really wasn't, but I think UUs are really sensitive to "This is racist because we say so."
RevSparker: Yes, but in my experience, Starr King isn't very often the one doing that. JTW and the Crossroads trainings did that. SKSM is the only place I see trying something different. Everybody else just gave up and said "this won't work."
ChaliceChick: I've heard people of color make fun of whites for being so scared of being called racist.
But at the same time, it's really disquieting to feel like at any moment you could be accused of something truly terrible and there's no way to defend yourself.
RevSparker: Yes, it's scary... but we are supposed to be brave
ChaliceChick: We are?
RevSparker: Trying to remember the words of Rank by Rank...something about brave...
RevSparker: The hardest thing for white people, I think, is to admit that yes, indeed, we are impure, screwed up, messy, imperfect, and sometimes stupid. And so is everybody else. I think it's part of how white supremacy shows up as fear instead of anger/rage/hatred.
ChaliceChick: Yeah. I can see that.
RevSparker: So part of what I am secretly wishing for is people to say, "Wow. I really did just assume my right to say 'brown bag' was more important than someone else's feelings and maybe I did that because I was scared or uncomfortable."
Now you know why I am passionate...I have an agenda...that will probably never happen
ChaliceChick: I honestly don't think that aspect was fear. I think I heard it and thought "boat people," and someone else thought of when he was called a racist for not giving a guy on the street money, and another person thought about getting yelled at for saying "a chink in the armor."
I think that people don't want to hurt each other's feelings and I think when the message is "Hey, did you know X and Y about the history of this?" it's one thing, but when it's "This is racist!" it's another.
RevSparker: But isn't that a kind of fear of being mistaken for a racist?
ChaliceChick: I don't know. In me, it feels like irritation.
RevSparker: Have you read Rebecca Parker's book of essays?
ChaliceChick: Which one?
RevSparker: Blessing the World
ChaliceChick: No, I haven't. I will keep an eye out for it.
RevSparker: She does a good job of talking about the way whiteness is constructed to make us fear being wrong and how we are taught to "not know" things that interrupt the way the world works. And then to defend why we didn't know or how we shouldn't have needed to know or how what we didn't know is actually not true
It's very compassionate.
ChaliceChick: Honestly, at this point, I am somewhat conditioned to believe that people of other races are oversenstive. I was kept waiting in a tire place on Monday, a black man came in soon after me and was kept waiting too. I found myself making a point of complaining about the staff ignoring me so he would know it wasn't just him. I don't think this is a wonderful way to be, but it's become my reflex because I'm so used to the assumption of racism in UU circles.
RevSparker: But that assumption of oversensitivity is a stereotype.
ChaliceChick: I know.
RevSparker: So the cycle just repeats in a new way... it reminds me of the AIDS virus, always changing just enough to avoid our attempts to cure it.
ChaliceChick: I totally get that. If it helps, I'm similarly nervous around white people whom I know are into Anti-racism.
RevSparker: The way AR/AO has been done in the UUA has been harmful at times and we are seeing the result of that. And yet, it was a start. by well-intentioned people trying to do something good.
ChaliceChick: I know.
RevSparker: But we dismiss them so easily because we didn't like what happened and because anti-oppression work is scary as hell.
ChaliceChick: OK, come to think of it, I don't know.
RevSparker: From my perspective, they made one HUGE mistake: they borrowed materials from other faiths and those materials were based in a Calvinistic "original sin" mentality. And yet, lots of people had life changing experiences in spite of that.
ChaliceChick: those materials were based in a Calvinistic "original sin" mentality
OK, both sides of this debate jsut started to make a hell of a lot more sense to me.
RevSparker: Yup. The Crossroads model really says that racism, like original sin, is inborn and whites are guilty. (if not inborn, taught at such a young age that it is impossible to escape)
and that the only way to "redemption" is strict adherence to an AR/AO model and practice:
to root out racism in all its forms...
to confess our guilt...
etc. etc. etc
What those original JTW people didn't see was that while a small group of people were having those life-altering experiences, many more were building resentment.
I am trying to acknowledge the depth of oppression, our complicity as an association of historically privileged folks, and yet...leave room for hope, grace, compassion, and love.
ChaliceChick: Wow. Umm... speaking of not wanting to be wrong, how come current AR/AO folks don't
admit this?
RevSparker: You know where the ones who do are? Starr King. (and some at 25 Beacon.)

Frankly, it's why I'm no longer on the JTWTC and am on the SKSM board instead. That is where I see a real UU theology of ECO emerging.
RevSparker: And they got there by making dumb mistakes like the brown bag thing. My allegiance to SK is not just because I went there.
ChaliceChick: OK.
RevSparker: It's because their work is the only place I see hopeful beginnings of a way out of all this.
That's what keeps me "hooked."
ChaliceChick: My impression is still that y'all are a bunch of hippies, but I do think that improving the racial climate is a good goal.

Which is kind of a weak ending, I'll admit, but that's when we were like "Hey! We should post this!"

S

7 comments:

fausto said...

Thanks for reporting this very constructive conversation.

One premise jumped out at me that I'll quibble with:

[RevSparker:] ... From my perspective, they made one HUGE mistake: they borrowed materials from other faiths and those materials were based in a Calvinistic "original sin" mentality. And yet, lots of people had life changing experiences in spite of that.

ChaliceChick: those materials were based in a Calvinistic "original sin" mentality
OK, both sides of this debate jsut started to make a hell of a lot more sense to me.

RevSparker: Yup. The Crossroads model really says that racism, like original sin, is inborn and whites are guilty. (if not inborn, taught at such a young age that it is impossible to escape)
and that the only way to "redemption" is strict adherence to an AR/AO model and practice:
to root out racism in all its forms...
to confess our guilt...
etc. etc. etc


This actually sounds much more like Unitarianism than Calvinism to me.

In the Calvinist model of Original Sin, human nature is not only inherently sinful, or at least predisposed toward sin, but also inherently and thoroughly incapable of doing anything to change it, or to overcome the estrangement from God that sinfulness causes. In the Calvinist model, all of those efforts would necessarily be futile. The only hope is not strict adherence to AR/AO or any other course of self-initiated redemptive action (which, being itself corrupt, is predestined to failure), but rather, recognition of our utter helplessness, incapacity, and dependence on God's mercy (which, as sinful wretches, we don't deserve).

It is the Unitarian, not Calvinist, model of Original Sin that supposes that the flaws in human nature are correctible by human effort. In the Unitarian model, human nature is not inherently depraved, but inherently perfectible. That's why Channing could speak of the human "likeness to God" and Clarke could speak of "salvation by character". It's why in the 19th century our own admittedly privileged classes nevertheless produced selflessly dedicated champions against oppression such as Robert Gould Shaw.

Where JTW and similar programs depart from the classic Unitarian paradigm, though, and I think it is a foolish omission, is their failure to see in Jesus of Nazareth the archetype of human perfectibility, the example for the rest of us to follow in our effort to overcome human failings. I don't mean by this that they acknowledged a divine Christ --they did not!-- but merely that they understood Jesus to be the most reliable moral teacher and exemplar available. Arguably, there has been no more effective champion against oppression in human history than (even this entirely human apprehension of) Jesus. That's what our Unitarian predecessors who argued against total incapacity and in favor of moral perfectibility believed, anyway.

Which begs the question: why would those of us who inherit their legacy, and who similarly care about resisting oppression, ignore the lessons of Jesus? and is our omission somehow related to the failure of our effort? In recent memory Gandhi and King, a non-Christian and a Christian whom we all like to admire, both followed Jesus' model for resisting oppression, with tremendous success. Why then don't we?

Chalicechick said...

I don't think the born-that-way-and-incapable-of-change model is at all inconsistent with the way some people in UU anti-racism view whites.

I will admit that it is inconsistent with what Sean said.

CC

fausto said...

I don't think the born-that-way-and-incapable-of-change model is at all inconsistent with the way some people in UU anti-racism view whites.

Perhaps that's true, but if so, their prescription for a cure to the problem of incapacity is about as far from Calvinism as it is possible to be. It was the comparison to Calvinism that I was responding to.

Their malignant view of whites is also not a very good way to minister to the spiritual needs of a population that, let's be brutally honest, is mostly white.

Nor is their normative, programmatic response respectful of our faith community's core organizational principles of personal as opposed to creedal discernment and congregational as opposed to hierarchical polity. In our tradition, if you are willing to cross the line from personal discernment into spiritual authoritarianism --which is exactly how AR/AO is perceived in some quarters-- you yourself become an oppressor. Which, of course, is an especially lousy way to fight oppression.

fausto said...

Rereading this paragraph, I realize it doesn't make much sense because a sentence is out of order:

Where JTW and similar programs depart from the classic Unitarian paradigm, though, and I think it is a foolish omission, is their failure to see in Jesus of Nazareth the archetype of human perfectibility, the example for the rest of us to follow in our effort to overcome human failings. I don't mean by this that they acknowledged a divine Christ --they did not!-- but merely that they understood Jesus to be the most reliable moral teacher and exemplar available. Arguably, there has been no more effective champion against oppression in human history than (even this entirely human apprehension of) Jesus. That's what our Unitarian predecessors who argued against total incapacity and in favor of moral perfectibility believed, anyway.

It should read this way:

Where JTW and similar programs depart from the classic Unitarian paradigm, though, and I think it is a foolish omission, is their failure to see in Jesus of Nazareth the archetype of human perfectibility, the example for the rest of us to follow in our effort to overcome human failings. Arguably, there has been no more effective champion against oppression in human history than (even this entirely human apprehension of) Jesus. That's what our Unitarian predecessors who argued against total incapacity and in favor of moral perfectibility believed, anyway. I don't mean by this that they acknowledged a divine Christ --they did not!-- or that we should, but merely that they understood Jesus to be the most reliable moral teacher and exemplar available.

LaReinaCobre said...

I love Sean. This is the only thing on this whole topic that I've read (apart from one of Sean's posts) that didn't make me want to shut off the computer.

kim said...

"...ignore the lessons of Jesus? "

Which lessons are those? There are so many different versions....

Robin Edgar said...

My impression is still that y'all are a bunch of U*Us. . . ;-)