How to Heal Our Divides Today

Thought leadership from organizations and individuals dismantling walls

Holy Chaos

I begin by laying the groundwork for our shared labor with definitions, as defined by Merriam-Webster and me.

holy

  • exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness
  • having a divine quality, venerated as or as if sacred
  • My definition: the connection to that which is beyond. The sense that something is more significant than a moment; the realization that “surely, God is in this place.”

chaos

  • a state of utter confusion, the unorganized state of primordial matter before the creation of distinct forms
  • the inherent unpredictability in the behavior of a complex natural system (such  as the atmosphere, boiling water, or the beating heart)
  • My definition: an anxiety-producing feeling of instability, disorientation. When things are moving so fast, it is challenging to step back, think, breathe, and gain perspective.

faith

  • belief and trust (in something sacred, for example, God)
  • belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion or a system of religious belief
  • firm belief in something for which there is no proof
  • My definition: a deep trust and practice that points us toward God. Faith is concerned with the systems, theories, and rituals that undergird and define a religious belief or practice. Ultimately, for me, faith looks like actions that are grounded in a deeply held belief and commitment to core values or religious teachings, I am less concerned with what your religion is and more concerned with what your religion does. How do your religious beliefs shape the way you move through the world?

politics

  • the art of science of government
  • the competition between interest groups or individuals for power and leadership
  • the total complex of relations between people living in a society
  • My definition: the art of navigating life together. This art included negotiation and decision making to determine the rules and boundaries that support shared experience in personal and public realms. 

daily

  • occurring, made or acting upon every day
  • My definition: concerned with the everyday commitment to particular actions. Grounded in resilience and the pragmatic necessity of the long-haul, persistent, recurring needs of living

love

  • strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
  • affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
  • warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion
  • unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another
  • My definition: a relationship that is mutual and generative, and moves toward justice in the world. Through nurture, love happens between people; in families and chosen families; with neighbors and communities; between strangers; in cities, states, countries, and political systems.

Peace does not mean

to be free of noise, trouble or hard work,

but to be in the midst of those things

and still be calm in your heart.

Unknown Author

From “Holy Chaos: Creating Connections in Divisive Times” by Amanda Henderson – Chalice Press

Ridding yourself of your negative emotions

Researchers say that negative emotions—fear, envy, greed, entitlement, resentment, anger, and regret—block gratitude, causing “self-alienation,” broken relationships, and profound unhappiness, thus resulting in a worldview that is “deeply false to human nature and the nature of the universe, a distortion of reality.” Indeed, it hardly takes a doctorate in psychology to know that what Christians refer to as the seven deadly sins—really, seven deadly emotions—run counter to thanksgiving and get one to a wretched place of existence if left spiritually unchecked. At the same time, “grateful people tend to be satisfied with what they have” and are less likely to succumb to negative emotions. It is a bit of a therapeutic and theological gerbil wheel: positive people are grateful, and grateful people are positive; negative people are ingrates, and ingrates sink into a mire of maladjustment. The trick, according to this analysis, seems to be ridding yourself of your negative emotions.

From “Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks” by Diana Butler Bass

We successfully weathered that storm once, and we can do it again

Perhaps the single most important lesson we can hope to gain from this analysis is that in the past America has experienced a storm of unbridled individualism in our culture, our communities, our politics, and our economics, and it produced then, as it has today, a national situation that few Americans found appealing. But we successfully weathered that storm once, and we can do it again. If ever there were a historical moment whose lessons we as a nation need to learn, then, it is the moment when the first American Gilded Age turned into the Progressive Era, a moment which set in motion a sea change that helped us reclaim our nation’s promise, and whose effects rippled into almost every corner of American life for over half a century. 

From “The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again” by Robert D. Putnam

Openness and connectivity may, in the end, be more valuable

The pattern of “competition” is an excellent case in point. Every economics textbook will tell you that competition between rival firms leads to innovation in their products and services. But when you look at innovation from the long-zoom perspective, competition turns out to be less central to the history of good ideas than we generally think. Analyzing innovation on the scale of individuals and organizations – as the standard textbooks do – distorts our view. It creates a picture of innovation that overstates the role of proprietary research and “survival of the fittest” competition. The long-zoom approach lets us see that openness and connectivity may, in the end, be more valuable to innovation than purely competitive mechanisms. Those patterns of innovation deserve recognition – in part because it’s intrinsically important to understand why good ideas emerge historically, and in part because be embracing these patterns we can build environments that do a better job of nurturing good ideas, whether those environments are schools, governments, software platforms, poetry seminars, or social movements. We can think more creatively if we open our minds to the many connected environments that make creativity possible.

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

For herd animals like us

Now when it comes to intellectual doubt, you’re dealing primarily with your meaning module, the part of your brain committee that thinks critically and analytically. But your meaning module’s independent thought processes are constantly being monitored and even censored by your belonging and survival modules. They constantly whisper their respective warnings: “If you think or say that, you won’t fit in the herd and you might even be banished from the herd. If you’re banished from the herd, you’ll be alone and in great danger. You need the herd to survive! Without your secure place in the herd, you might die! Danger! Danger!” In this example, it’s easy to imagine how your belonging and survival modules can try to keep your meaning module in line. But sometimes, the opposite can also happen.

Just as your meaning module might raise intellectual objections (“I can’t honestly accept that the earth was created in six literal days less than 10,000 years ago”, or “I can’t honestly believe the pope – or Bible – is infallible”), your belonging module might raise relational, social, and ethical objections: “I can’t go along with stigmatizing gay people, because that would mean I am betraying my friends Bob, Jill, Grant, and Pat”; or “I know what the Bible says and what the church says, but I can’t go along with treating women as second-class citizens. Doing so makes me feel like I’m harming my mother, my wife, my sisters, my daughters, and my female friends”; or “How could I treat people of other religions as if they are inferior and damned by God? Ahmad, Soraya, and Asha are among the finest people I know. I can’t throw them under the bus.”

That’s your intuitive belonging module at work, and it leaves you feeling torn among competing loyalties, affections, and relationships. In response, you can imagine your meaning module scolding the belonging module, trying to get it back in line: “But this church is doctrinally orthodox and was established on divine authority! These positions have been part of the church tradition for centuries! I can logically defend our policies with chapter and verse! You can’t put mere emotions above truth!” Then you can imagine your belonging module shouting back, “I don’t care about doctrines! I care about how I treat people, and I feel dirty and unethical when I treat people the way our faith community requires!”

When the meaning and belonging modules are out of alignment like this, with one feeling safe and the other feeling insecure, you can be sure that your survival module, the third and senior member of your brain committee, is reflexively emitting stress hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. These hormones prepare you to fight, flee, freeze, or appease as instinctive responses to danger. Their whole purpose is to make you uncomfortable with the status quo, which is why, to state the obvious, stress is so stressful.

That’s also why thinking outside the box of doctrinal norms or “feeling outside the box” of social and ethical norms feels so uncomfortable, even unbearable, for herd animals like us. Both thinking and feeling, even though they feel like private or personal experiences, have social consequences.

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

We have the moral responsibility to open our eyes and see our society more truthfully

If we want to understand racism in the U.S., as uncomfortable as it might be for us, we have the moral responsibility to open our eyes and see our society more truthfully, and to become more receptive to what it is like to be black in the U.S.

Here are some astonishing statistics that may help bring clarity to this conversation:

  • Black men are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than are white men.
  • If you are black in America, you are six times more likely to be incarcerated than a white person.
  • The median black family has only 10.2 percent of the wealth of the median white family,
  • Blacks are about 2.5 times as likely to be in poverty as whites.
  • The unemployment rate for black workers is consistently about twice as high as it is for white workers.
  • The typical black worker makes 82.5 cents on every dollar earned by the typical white worker.
  • The homicide rate for blacks between the ages of 10-34 years is 13 times the rate of whites.
  • A black child is six times more likely as a white child to have or have had an incarcerated parent.
  • Although black children are approximately 16 percent of the child population nationally, they make up 30 percent of the child abuse and neglect fatalities.

All of this begs the question: Are these statistics a consequence of something more systemic than individual prejudice?

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

Convictions

Our response is framed by seven core convictions that we believe are foundational to a constructive engagement with the work of reparations. The first regards the nature of racism itself. Before proceeding, we should briefly state that racism, as used in this book, has three elements to it. First, classifying human beings into distinct “races” due to presumably fixed and hereditary physical characteristics. Second, assigning notions of inferior mental or moral capacities correlated to those physical, mental and moral capacities correlated to those physical characteristics. Third, pushing people who are seen to have those physical, mental, and moral qualities to the margins of a given social order. Over the course of preparing this work, we have come to see that when people look at racism, they often see very different things and further, that these various ways of seeing racism elicit varying responses to it. Some, for example, view racism personally, as a form of personal prejudice whose remedy is personal repentance. Others view it socially, as a form of relational estrangement that requires racial reconciliation. Still others view it institutionally, in terms of discrete institutional injustice whose redress lies in institutional reform. Each of these accounts holds important truths about the nature of racism and what it means to respond faithfully to it. Even so, we believe that none of these capture the whole truth, that still another view is racism if required.

Our conviction is that racism is best understood culturally, as a force that shapes the entire ecosystem of meanings, values, ideas, institutions, and practices of American culture. Seeing racism in this way- as embedded in an entire cultural order – is important not only because it reminds us that each of us, simply by virtue of living in this culture, is implicated in and affected by the reality of American racism but also because it reminds us just how expansive the work of repairing racism ultimately will be. 

Our second conviction is that the best way to understand the cultural order of racism is through the lens of White supremacy. White supremacy has been present since the founding of America, pervasive across all of its institutions and enduring throughout its history. Because we understand the difficulty of this claim for many of our readers, a difficulty we ourselves feel, we want to take a moment to elaborate on just what we mean. 

There is a certain revulsion in hearing this word, supremacy, and even more so the phrase White supremacy. It is a difficult phrase, and this is important to acknowledge. But it is also important to ask why it is so difficult for many of us to speak of White supremacy. Part of the difficulty lies in how we understand its meaning. For many, White supremacy is understood in fairly narrow terms: as hooded riders in the forest, torch-bearing marchers in the street, or trolls on the dark web, promoting open, active animus against people who are not White. This is understandable. Since the early twentieth century, those images of White supremacy have been deeply and deliberately etched into the popular American imagination. And they are real. When understood in these terms, it is reductive at best and cynical at worst to describe America in this way. But this is, in our view, an overly narrow account, one that obscures more than it illumines by mistaking the periphery of White supremacy for its essence. As we will see, the truth is that White supremacy is much broader than those occasional spasms of violence, much more ordinary and mundane than these moments of dark spectacle suggest.

Another difficulty some might have with the language of White supremacy regards not necessarily what it means but how it feels. Even if one grasps this more comprehensive meaning of White supremacy, and even if one sees something of the fullness of its historical reality, it is nonetheless possible to object to this language simply on the grounds that it is offensive. Indeed, we have met more than a few sympathetic people who have suggested that we use different language precisely on these grounds. “I agree with what you’re trying to say. But can’t you just find a different way to say it?” In considering these suggestions, two things have become clear to us. First, to cease to use the language of White supremacy, even though it is historically accurate and broadly used in minority communities, simply because it offends the sensibilities of White people is, in our view, to perpetuate the logic of White supremacy itself. We see no way around this. Second, if, as we will demonstrate, the American social order disproportionately (and deliberately) benefits those deemed to be White, even as those who are not deemed White are enslaved, degraded, and marginalized, what other term does honesty permit us to use?

But perhaps the most important obstacle to the language of White supremacy comes from those who, often in good faith, doubt its reality, who ask whether it really is the case that American society is one in which Whites have been at the top of the social hierarchy and have had virtually exclusive access to its benefits. This seems to us to be a fair and important question. The work of chapter 2 is to show that the unequivocal answer is yes.

The third conviction, developed in chapter 3, is that White supremacy’s most enduring effect, indeed its very essence, is theft. We believe White supremacy to be a multigenerational campaign of cultural theft, in which the identities, agency, and prosperity of African Americans are systematically stolen and given to others. As we will show, we believe that while this theft took many forms, its most significant and enduring forms are the theft of truth, the theft of power, and the theft of wealth.

Our fourth conviction is that the Christian church in America, a church that emerged and has endured in the context of White supremacy, has a fundamental responsibility to respond to this theft, for several reasons. The first reason derives from the church’s complex history, at times embracing and justifying White supremacy and at times resisting it. The church in America is not and never has been an innocent bystander to White supremacy. It has, to the contrary, been present – as both friend and foe – every step of the way. This reality entails the obligation to own this history and to take public responsibility for addressing it. This responsibility also comes from the church’s inner life. One of the glories of the Christian church is that, even in the midst of its deep brokenness, it takes the work of love seriously. Indeed, it is a community constituted by an act of love and committed to the work of love in the midst of the world. This love expresses itself as the burden, in the words of Jesus, to “proclaim good news to the poor” and “liberty to the captives” (Luke 4:18). The church is a community that, by its very nature, exists to address harms like those done by White supremacy. Last, the church’s responsibility derives from its need for missional integrity. It is easy to forget that the Christian church in America carries out its mission in one of the longest-standing White supremacist social orders in the history of the world. For this mission to have integrity, the church has to take this context seriously. If the church in America carries out its work of engaging culture, transforming cities, bringing the kingdom of God, and making all things new, without deliberately engaging the reality of White supremacy, both the integrity and efficacy of its mission are diminished. This is the subject of chapter 4.

Our fifth conviction is that one of the most important contributions of the church to the work of reparations is its historic ethic of culpability and restitution. As we will show, there is a long scriptural and deep theological tradition in the Christian church that teaches, very simply, that when you take something that does not belong to you, love requires you to return it. This ethic of culpability and restitution, embodied most clearly in the story of Zacchaeus, is a crucial element of any Christian vision of reparations. Related, our sixth conviction is that, in addition to restitution, the Chrstian tradition also teaches another response to theft: restoration. Even when not culpable for a theft, the Christian still has the obligation to restore what was lost. This ethic of restoration, seen clearly in the story of the good Samaritan, is a crucial element of the Christian vision of reparations. These two ethical responses to theft – restitution where we are culpable and restoration even where we are not – provide a broad foundation for a Christian account of reparations. In this account – and this is critical for our argument – reparations is best understood as the deliberate repair of White supremacy’s cultural theft through restitution (returning what one wrongfully took) and restoration (restoring the wronged to wholeness). We discuss these two elements in chapters 5 and 6, respectively. 

Our final conviction (developed in chapter 7) is that as the church undertakes this work of reparations it must mirror the threefold theft wrought by White supremacy: not only the theft of wealth ( as is generally understood) but the theft of truth and the theft of power as well.

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