How to Heal Our Divides Today

Thought leadership from organizations and individuals dismantling walls

Innovation

This is a book about the space of innovation. Some environments squelch new ideas; some environments seem to breed them effortlessly. The city and the Web have been such engines of innovation because, for complicated historical reasons, they are both environments that are powerfully suited for the creation, diffusion, and adoption of good ideas. Neither environment is perfect, by any means. (Think of crimes rates in big cities, or the explosion of spam online.) But both the city and the Web possess an undeniable track record at generating innovation. In the same way, the “myriad tiny architects” of Darwin’s coral reef create an environment where biological innovation can flourish. If we want to understand where good ideas come from, we have to put them in context. Darwin’s world-changing idea unfolded inside his brain, but think of all the environments and tools he needed to piece it together: a ship, an archipelago, a notebook, a library, a coral reef. Our thought shapes the spaces we inhabit, and our spaces return the favor. The argument of this book is that a series of shared properties and patterns recur again and again in unusually fertile environments. I have distilled them down into seven patterns, each one occupying a separate chapter. The more we embrace these patterns – in our private work habits and hobbies, in our office environments, in the design of new software tools – the better we will be at tapping our extraordinary capacity for innovative thinking. 

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson

Some people don’t think much about their faith.

For them, it’s primarily a matter of belonging (I enjoy being part of a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or dharma group) or of survival (I don’t want to go to hell; I want to maintain God’s blessings of health and wealth for my continued well-being in this life.) They haven’t had an intellectual question or doubt about their faith for years, or maybe ever, because for them, the conceptual side of faith simply isn’t that important, especially in comparison to its social and survival dimensions. 

From “Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What To Do About It” by Brian McLaren

Greater awareness of racism

I do not presume to have arrived on the issue, or to be “woke.” I simply want to share with you what I have discovered on my own journey toward greater awareness of racism in America, and with my own participation in systems, both visible and hidden, that perpetuate it. I want to begin with two stories that might open us to an honest conversation about this sensitive issue.

The first story is about a colleague who shared with me an experience she had late one night while on a business trip in a major city. She had just finished a long meeting and was walking alone to her car in a dark, mostly empty parking lot. Once inside, she attempted to start her car, only to discover that the battery was dead. There she was, alone, with a car that wouldn’t start, in a dark parking lot, stranded in an unfamiliar city past midnight.

As she hunted for her roadside assistance card, she noticed an older model truck driving slowly through the lot. To her it seemed as if the truck was prowling in her general direction. She checked and rechecked the locks on the doors and tried again and again to start the engine. The truck slowly approached and finally came to a stop in front of her car. In the dim light of the parking lot, she could see a tall black man emerge from the truck holding what appeared to be a thick rope. Her heart raced as he walked slowly toward her car. Flushed with fear and panic, she fumbled for her phone and started to dial 911, when suddenly the man knocked on her windshield, held up a pair of jumper cables, and said, “I work maintenance here, ma’am. I noticed earlier that you’d left your headlights on. You don’t have to get out of the car. Just pop the hood and I’ll help you get started.”

All at once, her fear turned to relief, and then her relief turned to guilt. She wondered why she had been so afraid, and what her fear revealed about her unconscious beliefs and biases.

The second story is told by Dr. Kamau Bobb, who serves on the faculty at Georgia Tech and holds a global leadership position at Google. He was crawling along in rush hour traffic just before dusk, heading home after work, when red and blue lights suddenly flashed behind him. He pulled over, and the officer pulled over behind him. This, said Bobb, “is the singular moment in American life where Black men wish they were White women. This is the moment that drives fear into the hearts of Black people. Anything in the interaction with police can escalate to deadly outcomes… and there was no telling how this would go.”

The approaching office reached the back fender and put his hand on his gun. Bobb was now fearful. He rolled down the window as the office approached, and that was when he heard the voice: “Put your hands on the steering wheel where I can see them.” Bobb reached for his wallet, and again, he was ordered to put his hands on the wheel. Bobb says “For White people…who typically say that if you’ve done nothing wrong, everything will be fine, this is the moment they don’t understand. This is the terror moment…the moment of anxiety at fever pitch.”

After the arrival of another patrol car and several intense minutes of questioning and radio calls, the encounter ended without further escalation. But if you are Kamau Bobb, what do you do with the fear and humiliation of such an experience? Where does it go?

From “A House Divided: Engaging the Issues through the Politics of Compassion” by Mark Feldmeir – Chalice Press

The transformation of hearts is essential

Opposing racism but not being active in combatting it sounds rather benign. Forfeiting opportunities to act creatively for race relations may be the greatest contributor to racism’s malignant persistence in society. I believe Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was right when he said: “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” All of us are responsible for the persistence of racism. The failure to be involved in addressing racism is also to be guilty of perpetuating it. 

The systemic realities of racism are not immutable. They increase or diminish by the extent of personal and collective involvement we give to combat racism. Individuals giving their hearts to dismantling racism are key to reducing its horrific blight of life. The transformations of hearts alone will not undo racism. Racism is embedded in our institutions. Still, the transformation of hearts is essential to participating in the interpersonal and political processes that result in the transformation of racist systems.

From “Living Into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America” by Catherine Meeks – Morehouse Publishing

The cycle hardened the racist ideas inside me

Like the famous question about the chicken and the egg, the answer is less important than the cycle it describes. Racist ideas make people of color think less of themselves, which makes them more vulnerable to racist ideas. Racist ideas make White people think more of themselves, which further attracts them to racist ideas.

I thought I was a subpar student and was bombarded by messages – from Black people, White people, the media – that told me that the reason was rooted in my race ….which made me more discouraged and less motivated as a student….which only further reinforced for me the racist idea that Black people just weren’t very studious….which made me feel even more despair or indifference….and on it went. At  no point was this cycle interrupted by a deeper analysis of my own specific circumstances and shortcomings or a critical look at the ideas of the society that judged me – instead, the cycle hardened the racist ideas inside me until I was ready to preach them to others. 

From “How to Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi

Racial Awareness and Mindfulness Festival 2021

Learn more and register here: http://raf2021.eventbrite.com/

On Saturday October 16, 2021, people across the globe are invited to come together in unity to experience a festival designed to help average people develop greater racial awareness and a deeper reflection on the harmful and sometimes unconscious effects of lingering racial disparities and racist systems in U.S. society and across the globe. The shootings of unarmed young black men, the school to prison pipeline, and the socio-economic disparities between blacks and whites made visible by a pandemic persist despite the claims of some of a “post-racial America.” These disparities expand in politics, the colonization and the rape of the lands on the continent of Africa, and everywhere people of color exist. The harsh realities of racism, “the American Shadow” continue in this new Millennium, and expand also among the Palestinian people, those descendent from or living in countries on the continent of Asia, those who dwell in the South Pacific and Caribbean, Central and South America, Australia, and others.

To awaken to the structural and systemic realities of race, and to explore what a new and inclusive movement of good will in our societies across the globe look like in the 21st century, the festival will give an unprecedented role to the potential power of the arts, including music, storytelling, poetry, drumming, and dance, in the midst of movement and dialogue in workshop sessions, creating more awareness of our collective reality, and hopefully, cultivating compassion and mindfulness, while building community across racial lines to stand for healing and justice.

This is not a typical lecture-format conference but a trust building event designed to produce an enduring movement of people of reflective minds, compassionate hearts, and those possessing long-term friendships across the racial divides. To accommodate a wide-range of life experiences, festival events are geared for both beginners and experts interested in addressing the lingering effects of racism in our society. There will be white only and black only spaces, as well as multiracial spaces where we open to the experiences of ‘the other’. At the end of the day, our festival community will gather to share learnings and consider next steps, including expanding our circles to create a simultaneous festival event in regions across the country.

Spiritual director and organizer Therese Taylor-Stinson: “As the U.S. struggles with ongoing issues related to the devaluing of Black lives — unarmed black men and women being beaten, shot, and killed by police; lone white vigilantes; and others being imprisoned, underemployed, undereducated, homeless, unsupported, and just plainly devalued and allowed to die during a raging world pandemic; churches, community groups, and people of good will from all walks of life are coming together in creative and lifegiving ways to approach and address the reality of race and privilege, and its negative systemic impact on all people. We believe that this summit will help leaders take the next steps in addressing the problems of race and violence in their local communities and create changed behavior.”

WHAT: Workshops and creative arts to help melanated peoples and people of pallor understand and address the reality of racism.

WHEN: Saturday, October 16, 2021, 9:45AM-5:15PM eastern (with music during virtual lunch)

WHERE: Online. Link will be sent before the event.

WHO: Daoud Nassar, Tent of Nations, Bethlehem, Palestine; Jen Marlowe, Producer-Filmmaker “There Is a Field” Donkey Saddle Films

SPONSORS: Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing; Coming to the Table Montgomery County, Maryland; Horizon Prison Initiative (Ohio); Lola Georg/Vivienne Hawkins; Interwoven; Life Calls Coaching; NEXT Church (PCUSA); Shalem Institute; Spirituality Network of Ohio; Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd.; Urban Ministries Network; Renee Wormack-Keels

Schedule

9:45AM-10:15AM eastern: OPENING CEREMONY: drumming, mindfulness meditation, logistics for the day

10:15AM-11:15AM eastern: KEYNOTE: Daoud Nassar, “Tent of Nations,” Palestine

11:30AM-12:30PM and 1:30PM-2:30PM eastern: DEEPINING YOUR RACIAL AWARENESS

  • Drumming Circle w/ Katy Gaughan
  • Multicultural Healing Circle w/ Cathy Roberts and Venetia Bailey
  • Emotional Emancipation Circle℠ w/ Alanna Taylor and E. Ursula Young (African Diaspora Only)
  • Interplay! It’s in the Cards–How To Play With Race and Win! w/ Caroline Blackwell and Mosi Kamau Kitwana
  • White Caucus w/ Pat Jackson and Phyllis Lerner
  • The Humanity of Our Heros w/ Tejai Beluah
  • What’s Happening Now? (Discussion on Current Events)w/ Renee Wormack-Keels

12:30PM-1:30PM eastern: LUNCH: on your own or gathered in small community in breakout rooms (Opportunity to share your experience thus far)

Music provided by Clarence Turner Blues

2:45PM-4:15PM eastern: FILM: “There Is a Field,” followed by Qs and As and discussion with Director-Playwright Jen Marlowe

4:15PM-4:30PM eastern: CLOSING RITUAL: Lament, Confession, (Re)conciliation, Healing

4:30PM-5:15PM eastern: POST-FESTIVAL WINE DOWN w/Soyinka Rahim, Clarence “Bluesman” Turner, and Eric Wilson

4:30PM-5:15PM eastern: SUPPORT CIRCLES

Contributions of this book

Though we intend for this book to be introductory, we also hope that it will make substantive contributions to larger conversations regarding reparations both inside and outside of communities of faith. Even as we introduce some of our readers to the topic of reparations, we also hope to engage with scholars, theorists, and practitioners of reparations in a constructive manner. Some of our readers may be surprised to learn that a robust conversation around reparations exists at all, and even more surprised to learn that it exists outside and inside the Christian church, both today and throughout history. Part of the purpose of this book is to orient our readers to that conversation. It is also our purpose to shope that conversation and to contribute to its maturation. Though the extent of our contribution will only be seen in time, we believe that our work contributes to this conversation in several important ways. 

The first of these is that we set our treatment of reparations not simply against the backdrop of slavery but against the much larger backdrop of White supremacy. As will be abundantly clear, in doing this we do not intend to diminish the significance of slavery. To the contrary, we seek to embed it in a much larger and more enduring context that illumines both its essential meaning and its enduring effect. Nor do we intend to critique organizations or movements such as the American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) who, as their name indicates, largely center the descendants of those enslaved in America in their account of reparations. “Even so, we deliberately join others in taking a broader approach. Doing so provides a more accurate historical picture of both the character and the duration of White supremacy’s cultural theft, a theft that preceded American chattel slavery and endures beyond it. In our view, it is only as we set reparations in the context of the entire history of American White supremacy, a history that included but is not confined to slavery, that the full picture of reparations can come into view.

Our second contribution lies in our characterization of White supremacy as theft. While this is central to our argument, we also confess that it is a point in which our argument is vulnerable. After all, White supremacy expressed itself as a symphony of vices: not least idolatry, covetousness, lying, adultery, and murder. Even so, the simple fact is that American White supremacy originated in the theft of Black bodies, sustained itself through the theft of Black wealth, and justifies itself through the theft, the erasure, of truths that expose its lies. Theft is, therefore, not simply an expression of White supremacy, it is, rather, both its most elemental impulse and its most enduring effect. We believe that characterizing it in this way helps not only to clarify its essential logic but also to chart a clearer path toward reparations.

We also contend that this theft is best understood not merely in terms of wealth but in the more comprehensive terms of truth and power. This is an important feature of this work that distinguishes it from most of the literature on reparations. A great deal of the literature frames reparations in largely economic terms, as a form of redress for the incalculable wealth lost to African Americans caused both by slavery and by subsequent decades of contined inequality. As we will show in chapters 3 and 7, we are in deep sympathy with this view and fundamentally agree that there is a critical monetary horizon of reparations. Even so, we resist reducing reparations to this horizon. To view White supremacy as a theft of not only wealth but also truth and power provides important insights regarding White supremacy’s inner logic. It is also a more accurate account of White supremacy’s devastating cultural reach. To frame the harm done by American White supremacy in exclusively economic terms is actually to obscure the nature and magnitude of that harm. In our view, this broadened perspective opens up new horizons for reparations by reminding us that the true imperative of reparations is not simply for a debt to be repaid but for an entire world to be repaired. 

Another contribution of this work is its focus on the church. We hope that this book will introduce Christian readers to the reparations conversation, to the role of the Christian thought in those conversations, and to the incredible potential of the church to bring those conversations to the forefront of the national imagination and to enact them in their local contexts. In doing this, however, we have subtly shifted the institutional backdrop of this conversation. Most treatments situate reparations against the institutional backdrop of the federal government. Even as these treatments differ from one another in their accounts of history and their elaboration of debt, most believe that reparations is, finally, the work of the government. We, too, believe that the United States government is morally responsible for the work of reparations – both for the ways that it sheltered White supremacy and the ways in which it benefited from that sheltering. Indeed, throughout its history the government has paid reparations to Native peoples, to Japanese Americans interned during World War II, and most relevantly to slave owners following emancipation. The United States government has already demonstrated its capacity to enact reparations when it finds the moral and political will to do so. And, pragmatically speaking, we believe that the scale of reparations is such that the resources of the United States government, combined with the governments of other nations, are necessary. That said, given the history of our government’s indifference to reparations to Black Americans, and given the profound divisiveness of our political moment, we are not sanguine that the United States government will take up the work of reparations with any real intentionality or efficacy in the foreseeable future. And yet the need for reparations remains. 

Because of this, we believe that churches can and should play an important role in catalyzing and demonstrating the power of reparations in our communities. Indeed, the church’s complicated history, moral tradition, committed membership, considerable resources, local knowledge, collaborative potential, and divine power render it the perfect context for the work of reparations. As with all civil organizations, the church’s efforts will, structurally speaking, be smaller in scale than those made possible through governmental resources. But they will be a beginning, which with labor and time may yet amount to the whole.

Our final intended contribution is our insistence that reparations requires what the Christian community refers to as repentance. Which is to say, the work of reparations requires us to become different kinds of people. The sad, though understandable, truth is that conversations over social change, especially those surrounding racial redress, are fraught with self-righteousness and venomous recrimination. Rarely are these conversations characterized by the presumption that perhaps we are wrong, that we are the problem, and that our social goals require our personal repentance. Indeed, there is a discernible vanity in both religious conservative “patriots” and secular liberal elites that presumes that social change can somehow bypass personal repentance, that the world can change while we remain the same. This false presumption obstructs the work of reparation because it inevitably focuses our attention on defending our rightness rather than on repairing the wrong before us. This tendency is evident everywhere around us, but perhaps its greatest expression lies in the almost total unwillingness of many Americans and of our collective government to stand before our African American citizens and before the world and say, “We did this, it was wrong, and we want to repair what we have done.” But if we are to heal the wounds of White supremacy,this is precisely what we must do. Though reparations will not be accomplished simply by changing who we are, they cannot be accomplished with it. 

From “Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair” by Duke L. Kwon and Gregory Thompson

They refused to integrate

The Baptist denominational history is not unique in American Christianity. Virtually all of the major white mainline Protestant denominations split over the issue of slavery. For example, Northern and Southern Methodists parted ways in 1845, the same year as the Baptists, producing an additional spark for the tinderbox of Southern political secession. Whilte they disagreed about slavery, both Southern and Northern Methodists agreed that black Methodists should hold a subservient place not just in society but even in Christian fellowship. Even after the southern and northern branches of Methodists reunited in 1939, they refused to integrate black Methodist churches into their existing regional jurisdictions. Instead, they segregated all black congregations into a newly created and deceptively named “Central Jurisdiction,” thereby limiting their influence in the denomination for three decades until this system was finally abolished in 1968. And while the national United Methodist denomination did considerable courageous work supporting the civil rights movement, most white Methodists in the pews rejected or simply ignored national denominational directives and actions. In the South, white Methodists were hardly distinguishable from white Baptists in continuing to promote white supremacy during the civil rights era.

From “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity” by Robert P. Jones