healing the breach...

Today I had the privilege to join with three others local civic leaders in the first of a series of community conversations - and plans - for challenging racism, sexism and antisemitism in the Berkshires. About 75 people attended. My prepared comments are as follows. Many thanks to the Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross, Rabbi Josh Breindel, Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant and Dennis Powell. 

HEALING THE BREACH


It is my joy and privilege to be asked to share a reflection with you this day: thank you. As an old, straight, white Protestant guy getting closer to retirement, it would be so easy for me to settle back into all my privilege and just hold up in my study reading books, praying liturgies and playing music. And that’s what often happens with a lot of old, straight, white, privileged retired guys: we are so used to acting like we’re at the top of the food chain that don’t even consider doing something different. We may carp and complain about the world going to hell in a hand basket, but as my friends in AA say: if you always do, what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got. So I’m here to affirm that white, male, nativist, racist, anti-Semitic misogyny must be challenged. And what I’ve learned over the past 40 years of doing justice, practicing compassion and trusting God’s guidance with humility includes these three commitments.

The first task for me – and people like me who want to address the social sins of racism, sexism and anti-Semitism – is for us to shut up and learn to listen. My first practice must be hearing and believing those who have been wounded by my privilege. It is the only way I can credibly commit what the late German theologian, Dorothee Soelle, once called race, gender and class suicide. First, listen and believe.

Second, show up in solidarity.
That might mean standing in the rain for a pop up demonstration on Park Square or writing a well-crafted letter for the editorial page of the Eagle. Whatever form it takes, showing up in solidarity is essential. My mentor in ministry, Ray Swartzback, a veteran of both the Battle of the Bulge and the American Civil Rights struggle of the 50s and 60s taught me that white guys need to understand that our credibility is not portable – it must always be earned – and the only way to earn trust is to consistently show up in solidarity.

And third, celebrate the 10 foot rule.
Individually I don’t have much power but I can change what happens 5 feet in front of me and all around. I need not be over-whelmed by fear or immobilized by anxiety if I practice the 10 foot rule. Take, for example, what a young woman from Brooklyn, Emily May, can teach us with her People’s Suppers. To challenge the status quo, she started to invite people into her home to break bread. The concept is simple: Bring a group of willing people together for a meal, give them the opportunity to truly hear from and see each other, face to face (and see what happens when we claim) a "brave space" from within our vulnerability. Most folks, she says, do show up albeit a little nervous. But they almost always all leave a little more open, a little more understanding, and a little more brave. Next to everybody's plate is a card: These dinners can be places for healing – and places for bridging. At each dinner, we ask the same series of questions: What's the first moment that you understood what it means to be a citizen? What do you dream for your community? What was a moment in which you were made to feel not welcome? There are other themes to these peoples dinners including intra-faith gatherings and those focused on building solidarity with those who have been wounded by sexual violence and harassment. But all give shape and form to the 10 foot rule.

Like the Sikh scholar and activist, Valarie Kaur, I sense this present darkness is more of a womb than a tomb – a sacred moment when new life and hope is struggling to be born. And as an old hippie who home delivered BOTH of my daughters I know that this birthing is holy ground – along with a lot of pain, hard work and love. For me it requires listening and believing, showing up in solidarity and using my time and resources to give justice and compassion shape and form through the ten foot rule. Mohandas Gandhi is reputed to have said, “BE the change you wish to see in the world.” And what was true then in toppling the British Empire is no less true as we confront patriarchy, racism and anti-Semitism in the Berkshires.


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