One of the books I’ve been reading for my D.Min. program is by Mary McClintock Fulkerson called Places of Redemption: Theology for a Worldly Church. She follows a southern multiracial congregation through its trials and triumphs as they seek to be multicultural.
Her book starts with this small United Methodist congregation as a dying white congregation that decides to take some risks (what have they to lose?) by intentionally reaching out to both the African American and African population in their neighborhoods. What results is a series of challenges both for two very different pastors and for the congregation as they begin to understand the nuances and distinct differences between how Anglo-Americans, African Americans, and Africans commune together.
It has raised all sorts of things in my own mind, and resurrected some fairly painful periods of growth in my own journey. I remember in both college and graduate school that I was confronted with my white-maleness and the privileges that that position holds in American society. I remember feeling defensive because all the privileges of being “heard” and “heeded” as a white male that were being thrown at me like threats and negative criticisms that I did not feel were part of my experience (or, at least, I didn’t think they were).
While there is some white-male bashing in Fulkerson’s book, I also hear in these pages of grossly academic writing (some sentences I absolutely cannot parse) a very human desire to simply be seen and recognized (she speaks of the tendency for whites, even our attempt to be inclusive, to be oblivious to our unconscious racisms and cultural ignorance, even of our own culture). Fulkerson writes about “place” as more than a location, but a place to appear and be seen, to honor the shared image of God (p. 21). Place, it seems, is about welcome and belonging, which is more than just tokenism, but seeking understanding and doing the hard work of empathetical listening to those deemed “other”.
As our nation embraces the quadrennial sport of presidential elections, Fulkerson’s work and that of Fr. Eric Law are in the forefront of my mind (even as I find myself screaming at the TV during debates and the profusion of political ads both on TV and on my front door) and the lens through which I find myself watching the spectacle. When there is difference—whether in opinion, belief, communication style or cultural perspective—how might we listen to one another in a way that honors the image of God in each? When we are overwhelmed by belligerent yammering that helps no one but might make the speaker feel empowered, am I able to set my defensiveness aside and embrace (even figuratively) the other in the pain or fear or ardent beliefs that are causing them to come across as bullies?
While I am writing this, someone on Twitter just sent me this image:
Easier said than done. I could only respond with: “I love it, but it still makes me cry.”