Thursday, February 03, 2011

Racial Reconciliation -Midwinter 2011 reflections - part 3

Yesterday I had one of the more potentially transformative and moving workshops I have had at Midwinter. Velda Love and Peter Sjoblom lead the workshop designed for us to take seriously that the Christian Tradition and the Bible all are resources for confronting Racism and a Racialized society through the act of seeking racial reconciliation. They also created a space where we could as those committed to Christ and the Gospel come together and speak our stories of race and racism, out of the intention of hearing one another and not merely asserting our perspective. In all it was a humble, humbling and rejuvenating time, because Truth and truths were spoken that often don't get or aren't allowed to be spoken.

We were in Three groups around three tables, and in our groups we were to speak to each other from where we were and who we were around the issues of race and racism. The first discussion was to tell our stories through what influence our theology, who wee the people, the scholars the circumstances that inform who we think theologically and live theologically. The first person to speak a confession and the pain of the struggles of his own congregation. He spoke of the pain of coming to this realization and the pain that he did not know what to do for his congregation, yet knowing this was a barrier to so much good that could happen there. And that was simply the beginning, so many stories of pain but also hope. Hope mixed with pain, and the complexity of living and resisting in large and small ways this system of racial division and categorization, allowing the different groups to have opinions of the other that are in the least inaccurate if not completely false and for the sake of keeping those categorized as White with the wealth power and privilege. I found it interesting that the stories on all sides often included a theme of prejudice concerning the other, and either being taught that prejudice was wrong through the actions of others (Friends, parents, grandparents, or the experience of grand parents and parents). There was also the understandable theme of, for those of races other than white, struggling with seeing all people of European descent as one monolithic group of people who have done one wrong (not entirely false but not entirely true either).

For me a great breakthrough moment in the workshop was when a Hispanic pastor who pastors among First Nations, challenged the framing of workshop along lines of White and Black (though to the credit of the facilitators they sought this framing as exemplary but not exclusive). This felt like an exclusion despite the attempt at inclusion. this lead us as a whole to struggle with the paradigms of race that we continue to use to dismantle Racism and a Racialized system. I feel that rose up in that moment was a cry against continuing to use the classification and linguistic system of an oppressive system. while struggling with the reality that we also have to fact the system and its language and confront it on its terms for we are also part of that system. It was an amazing moment as we were confronted with the reality that our own story's don't necesarily fit so easily into the mythology and construct and classification of the system, even as the system itself attempts to address the racial realities.

Velds Love said two things that have remained with me: one was in part in responce to the above protest and renunciation, that she when she is asked to describe herself says she is a woman by birth of African descent who chose Christianity. She explained that this is deliberate way of describing herself that she believes opens up for encounter, for it frees the other to similarly self-identify. The other thing she said was that we need people willing to deliberately and carefully cross boundaries and barriers to encounter and build relationship with others. It occurred to me that this was largely what my German missionary grandparents did. They left Germany as missionaries not to bring Germany to China, but to meet and have relationship with the Chinese for the sake of the Gospel. I am told that until his death my grandfather, (Vati we called him) burped after every meal as was the custom and polite in Chinese culture of his time. Vati went to China and took on Chinese custom and social norms to reach out and relate to the Chinese, and he perhaps (unconsciously) told everyone he ate with that they would have to cross a boundary, that he was not easily categorized, in that there is great redemption I feel.