Sunday, October 26, 2008

Building the Dream

Have you ever noticed the similarity between the words "workshop" and "worship"? I've heard my minister, Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube, define worship as "to consider that which has worth". Workshops like the twenty-plus evenings and afternoons I've participated in this year meet that definition.

The series is called "Building the World We Dream About: A Welcoming Congregation Curriculum on Race and Ethnicity". I call the series "Building the Dream" for short and to tie it to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. The workshops called me to consider worthy topics and challenged me to consider them and myself in new ways. There were a lot of surprises for me.

I started the year expecting that we would talk about the experience of being "other" in America, black or Latino or Asian. It came as a shock to spend so much time talking about being white. I found out that I took a lot of pride in being "counter-cultural", of not sharing the mindset that others were not as good as me. I was stunned by my dawning realization that this is a luxury that I as a white, male, straight, married, able, middle-class employed person could have because of all the privileges - earned and unearned - that I enjoy. It had never dawned on me how all-encompassing my white privilege is.

I was also surprised at how engaged I became in the process. Part of it was the covenant-group-like structure that encourages intimacy and trust. Part of it was the authenticity and generosity of my companions. Some parts were challenging - hard, even - and I often found myself in uncomfortable territory. It's not fun to realize - again! - that many of the freedoms I enjoy are not equally shared in this country, in this society. Because we are all immersed in this culture, we find it here in my church community, too.

I don't consider myself racist on a personal level and I think that I don't harbor a lot of mass prejudice (though I'm open to guidance, there). Where my racism manifests is by my participation in and support of institutions - educational, political, employment, social, civic, cultural and religious - that have racial and other biases built into their structures and practices. Withdrawing my support for these institutions is not feasible - I would not enjoy being a hermit! - so changing them has to happen as they continue to function. Some, if not most, of those changes will inconvenience those of us who hold privileged status in these institutions. We've seen many examples of this in the educational and employment fields over the last fifty years; desegregation, busing, Equal Opportunity Employment laws, "quotas" and calls of "reverse discrimination".

One of my most painful realizations has been that measured, sustainable change in these institutions necessarily means prolonging and supporting their unjust and oppressive elements for another generation (or more!) but that revolutionary change is risky, too! The good gets thrown out with the bad and everyone suffers until - hopefully! - non-oppressive systems replace them. There are no perfect solutions and yet we must move forward. I look forward to when this curriculum is released and, when that happens, I will take it again.