Apr 24 2017

May Theme: Forgiveness

Published by at 4:26 pm under Minister's Musings

Forgiveness, Discomfort,
and the Work of Undoing Our Culture of White Supremacy
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
On Sunday, May 7, we here at the First Unitarian Church of San José take part in a nationwide movement called the UU White Supremacy Teach-In. Created by religious educators and faith leaders of color, with white Unitarian Universalist allies following their lead, the teach-in includes over 550 congregations—thousands of Unitarian Universalists—across this country and around the world. All of us will “interrupt our regularly scheduled programming” to take a look at patterns that run so deep inside us, both as individuals and as institutions, that they often remain invisible or unquestioned. That unconsciousness keeps us in their grip. “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free,” sings Nina Simone in her recording of Billy Taylor’s gospel/jazz tune.[1] The spiritual and actual truth is that none of us can know truly how to be free until we bring into conscious view the chains that bind us and begin with renewed energy and commitment to dismantle them.
I’m excited, I’m disturbed, and I’m a little terrified about this moment—really, thisMovement in our faith. I’m excited to follow the lead of admired colleagues of color who have created this event. Excited because at last we Unitarian Universalists are ready to dig deep into how we too, despite our faith’s fervent proclamations to the contrary, fall asleep to the ways that the culture of white supremacy infects our institutions.
I’m disturbed because these conversations are difficult, and some folks in our movement are already acting out in the face of discomfort. I believe that we here at FUCSJ are far enough along in our awakenings around racism and other oppressions that surely we can move into this discomfort together. But I’m a little terrified because when we boldly go where we’re not supposed to go, anything can happen. Can we hold ourselves in Love, dear ones, even as we hold ourselves to account?
Do we have to call it “white supremacy”?
Yes, we do. I know this is an uncomfortable term for many white folks and for some folks of color, too. In the United States, we associate this phrase with the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation, and other white supremacist terrorist groups.
That’s not what we are talking about. White supremacy is the accurate name for the “set of institutional assumptions and practices, often operating unconsciously, that tend to benefit white people and exclude people of color.” We use this term not to call ourselves or others names, not to shame or guilt one another, but rather to wake up to patterns that can only be challenged or changed when they become visible and conscious.
Here’s a personal example: On the Thursday before Easter this year, multiple faith leaders, community members, and I take part in a press conference and ritual footwashing outside the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Morgan Hill. The themes, “SJWeBelong,” and “Families First/Primero las Familias,” proclaim that all our residents are worthy, beloved, valuable contributors to the life of this valley. We want unjust deportations to stop.
Two moments that day stand out for me as particularly holy. The first takes place when we clergy kneel and wash the feet of immigrants from many countries. Like Jesus washing the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper, the ritual portrays an intentional reversal of society’s expectations about power. As I wash my friend Samina Sundas’s feet, I look up into the face of this Pakistani-American Muslim woman to see tears rolling down her cheeks.
The second holy moment occurs when Minerva Rosas, a Latina dressed all in white, insists on washing my feet. I am grateful when the San Jose Mercury News article comes out the next day, and at first I don’t even notice that the lead photo shows Minerva, a Mexican immigrant, washing my feet, the feet of an older white woman. This cover photo misses the main point we were trying to make! In the simple act of my not noticing it, not questioning it, I see the deeply unconscious assumptions of white supremacy at work. I don’t have to do the “power analysis” all the time, so sometimes I forget. Do I feel guilty? No. A little embarrassed, but almost immediately I feel more alive, more hopeful. Every time I wake up, I know I am better equipped to help dismantle this culture that has its chains on all of us.
Being Woke, Feeling Discomfort, and Offering Forgiveness
Teach-in organizer Aisha Hauser says that “being woke” is not about being enlightened, not about having our act together around race and racism. None of us really has our act together in this area, my friends. Being woke—especially for white people like me—is about being curious, about asking and supporting peoples of color, rather than “whitesplaining,” assuming, or telling. It’s about being humble in our approach to antiracism work and about being accountable to communities of color.
With our broken-open hearts, Beloved Community, we are ready to move into this “theology of discomfort.” We are ready to forgive ourselves and each other, and to begin again in love.    
Please join us on Sunday, May 7, as we go boldly into the renewed creation of our faith!
Yours with love on this journey toward wholeness,
Rev. Nancy

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