Monthly Archives: September 2016

Beyond colorblindness

 

In the third edition of their classic book, Racial Formation in the United States, Michael Omi and Howard Winant characterize our present era as that of “colorblindness.”  They trace it back to the early 1970’s as a response to the Civil Rights advances of the 60’s.  As a racial ideology, colorblindness “repudiated the concept of race itself.  In certain respects, the concept of race ‘neutrality’ already does that ideological work.  To dismiss the immense sociohistorical weight of race, to argue that it is somehow possible, indeed imperative, to refuse race consciousness and simply not take account of it, is by any rational standard a fool’s errand” (p. 220).

To claim to “not see race” can have noble intentions.   At its best, colorblindness seeks to claim our common humanity, to proclaim that skin color is merely that, skin color, and confess that underneath the veneer of difference we are all fundamentally the same.  This is colorblindness on its best behavior.  It is perhaps an easy default mode for those of us who don’t regularly experience the underbelly of racialization.

But, the sad truth is that if we don’t see color we don’t see history.  If we don’t see color we don’t take into account the creation of racial categories as a system of control and domination.  If we don’t see color we’re stuck with the veneer that we could all get along if we would all agree to be colorblind.

The harder, more authentic and healing path, the one Columbus Mennonite has been on this year, is attempting some kind of collective recognition (even on a small, congregational scale) that we are embedded in the meaning imposed on these bodies in which we live and move in the world.  It’s not a meaning of our choosing or even liking, but it is the sinful world into which we were born.

Christianity is an incarnational faith, which I take to mean, at a minimum, that we value bodies.  It is against bodies that we direct brutality.  It is in a body, and bodies, that divine revelation come to us.

During the five Sundays of October our worship series will again be directly addressing these matters.  We will be drawing from the book of Jeremiah throughout the month, a prophet who spoke to his people at a time of national crisis.  Our worship theme will be “A holy movement: From Colorblindness to Racial Consciousness to Antiracism and Pro-Justice.”

 

Very Married

I’ve been invited to be on the launch team for the new Herald Press book Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity, by Katherine Willis Pershey.  Being on the team basically involves getting a free pre-release copy of the book, reading it, writing a (honest) review, and spreading the word.  The book is officially released next week, September 27, and is available for pre-order at Amazon HERE.  Here is my review.

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Very Married is a deeply personal book about a deeply personal subject.  It’s a book about marriage, but also a book about a particular marriage – that of the author and her husband.  It takes its title from a quote by Audrey Hepburn who once said, “If I get married, I want to be very married.”  The quest to be very married, despite the difficulties of marriage, is a thread that runs throughout.

The book itself grew out of an essay by Pershey, published in Christian Century magazine, titled “A long obedience.”  In the essay, Pershey tells of her relationship with “the person with whom I did not have an affair,” someone with whom she felt “the sense that we were inhabiting the same sphere of energy.”  Ten years into her fulfilling, although often times challenging, marriage, the experience of being strongly attracted to another man was a shock to her system.  She trusted her husband enough to tell him all about it.  Wounded, but appreciative of her honesty, he received the situation with grace, and their marriage was strengthened.

The piece became the most widely read of all Christian Century articles in 2015.  It shows up as chapter 9 in Very Married, right in the middle, and so the book as a whole forms something of a big hug around this chapter in Pershey’s life.

The book is personal, but it’s also remarkably comprehensive.  Pershey talks about weddings in the era of Pinterest, pre-marital sex and her involvement with the evangelical “purity” culture of the 90’s and her repeated failure to stay “pure,” depression and alcoholism, divorce, gender roles, non-traditional marriages, marriage (and sex) with children, in-laws, and, of course, the power of covenant and fidelity.  Pershey pulls in wide ranging quotes from David Brooks to Beyonce, from the Apostle Paul to Elizabeth Gilbert, from Ben Affleck to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  She fully affirms the beauty of marriage equality, but also finds favorable citations from conservative pastor Timothy Keller and a Focus on the Family article.

One of the chapters I especially appreciated is titled “When justice rolls down.”  In it, Pershey writes, “Without a doubt, this book is profoundly shaped by my social location – by the particularly pleasant field in which I make my notes and observations.”  She goes on to sketch out how social location impacts marriage, using the African American experience as an example of how a history of oppression and obliteration of the family unit continues to play out in that community.  She ends that chapter by saying, “If we want to wax poetic about the virtues and benefits of marriage, we must also advocate for policies and programs that empower people to access those virtues and benefits for themselves.”

If there’s one area Very Married fails to address, it’s the always-present role of money and finances in a marriage.  This is mentioned in passing at different points, but does not play as central a role in the narrative as it does in actual married life.  This is not a fatal flaw, but because the book so carefully covers so many different facets of marriage, I found it a noticeable and unfortunate omission.

Pershey is a writer, a wife, and a mother, but she’s also a pastor.  She frequently grounds her own experience and thoughts in the words of scripture.  I appreciate that she does not use scripture to outline “five principles for a healthy marriage,” or “how to have a biblical marriage.”  Rather, she approaches the scriptures with both reverence and a willingness to wrestle with their strangeness, cultural distance, and, at times, outright offensiveness.  She also manages to affirm the goodness of some of the traditional boundaries around sexuality and marriage, without being heavy handed or absolutist.

As a married pastor myself, someone who walks with people through marriage preparation, weddings, the daily stuff of married life, and, occasionally, divorce, I also appreciated some of the anecdotes that inspire me to be an ever more loving and thoughtful pastor.  In the chapter about her own wedding, Pershey shares the full text of a poem written by a beloved poetry teacher.  The poem begins: “No one knows the source of the splendor / that spills over us every day. / Ben and Katherine, take your dousing. / Refuse the towel./  Stay wet / When you don’t know what else / to do, bow your head.”  I also appreciated the inclusion of a lovely liturgy from the United Church of Christ called “Order for the Recognition of the End of a Marriage.”  If ever a divorcing couple in my congregation wishes to hold a ceremony for the occasion, I’m grateful to know this resource.

The greatest gift of this book is that by being deeply personal with her own marriage, Pershey welcomes the reader to do the same, either in their own marriage, or in their relationship to the institution of marriage.  Pershey models the kind of authentic engagement with the real stuff of marriage that is the necessary task of anyone who wants to become and remain very married.

Walking toward our biases

 

This Sunday for the sermon time I’ll be having an interview/dialogue with Malik Moore.  I met Malik back in June at a Race and Justice event hosted by First Unitarian Universalist.  We were both a part of a break out group discussing how faith communities might engage the issue.  We’ve since met for coffee and had a number of phone conversations and email exchanges.  Professionally, Malik has served as the Executive Director of YMCA of Central Ohio and is currently focusing on diversity and inclusion work.

As we talked about this Sunday he encouraged me to encourage the congregation to watch THIS 18 minute TED talk by Verna Myers called “How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them.”  A diversity trainer herself, Myers begins in a confessional tone by telling a story about becoming conscious of a bias she didn’t know she had.  While on a recent flight she was thrilled to hear a female pilot welcome everyone aboard, but when the plane hit turbulence at peak altitude she found herself hoping this pilot really knew how to fly – a thought she realized she’d never had with male pilots.  She goes on to focus on our biases toward black men, giving challenges of how to move beyond these.  A few quotes I wrote down while watching:

“Stop trying to be good people.  We need real people.”

“Move toward young black men instead of away from them.”

“This is not about perfection, it’s about connection.”

“When we see something, we have to have the courage to say something, even to the people we love.”

It’s a powerful talk.  Watch it when you have time, and come hear Malik speak on Sunday if you’re in the area.

Joel

Sunday’s sermon, “From loss to celebration,” is posted on the website.

 

 

Collaboration and Confrontation  

 

The last two mornings I’ve taken part in conversations that have me thinking about how change happens, and the role of collaboration and confrontation.

The first was one of the many “Big Table” conversations Tuesday, sponsored by the Columbus Foundation.  The question of the day was how we might work together to improve our community – a big question, but one that garnered plenty of energy.  Most of the people in the room worked in the corporate and government worlds and the value of collaboration was emphasized.  Columbus is known nationally for its collaborative spirit.  The fact that nearly 500 of these Big Table conversations took place, well above the initial goal, testifies to this.  One of the directions our conversation took was recognizing who all wasn’t around the table, and how Columbus continues to be a place that is economically segregated.  How to give voice to those in survival mode not holding positions of social power?  How to extend the willing hand of collaboration?

Yesterday morning I met with the BREAD Executive Committee.  BREAD is a collaborative effort of 40 diverse congregations around Franklin County working together to solve specific problems we identify collectively.  But BREAD often finds itself at odds with community leaders who hold the power and resources to make the change.  BREAD confronts unjust systems and regularly receives pushback for its efforts.  BREAD relies on ‘people power’ to elevate our voice and achieve our goals.  It has a history of success in promoting positive change, and has done this through plenty of confrontation.

I don’t mean to draw a false dichotomy.  Collaboration and confrontation may be something like the feminine and masculine energies at work all around and within us.  It takes a lot of wisdom to know which to emphasize and express in which circumstances.