I spent last week in North Carolina for some special events in several different communities (a few pictures and stories are on Facebook and Instagram and then speaking about Faith Shift and relationships at the Evolving Faith Conference, hosted by Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey. It was an honor to be part of such an incredible team and a filled-to-the-brim space with people navigating an evolving faith. The range of experiences made it tough to hold but with an extremely diverse lineup of speakers, there’s no doubt every attender received something they needed to strengthen, encourage, empower, heal.
Some people have a false image about speakers and how fun it might be. Even though I love connecting with people, it carries great responsibility, too.
It also sometimes produces intense vulnerability and shame.
After the morning and afternoon speakers, the plan was to break into smaller sections based on the content for Q and A. I was fully prepared to talk-all-things-faith-shift-and-families-and-relationships; that’s my zone. However, due to lack of time, all 11 of the day’s speakers came together for one big Q&A, with well over 1,000 people still in the room. The questions were all over the place, some directed to particular speakers, others general that the moderator then tossed to specific people.
Someone I happened to know asked this great question to anyone on the stage: What was a formative voice that was non-white, non-American, non-male?
The question and microphone got tossed immediately to me, and my overwhelmed and tired mushy brain did not catch up properly to the question. I went with the first person that came to my mind as hands-down the most formative voice in my lifetime journey—Jean Vanier. I was thinking non-American, not non-white or male. Remember, mushy brain. Then, when I realized my mistake, I switched gears and bumbled through something that wasn’t true—that I hadn’t really read that much because I was busy pastoring and mommying and navigating faith shifts for the last chunk of years, but I was currently reading Austin Channing Brown’s newest book—I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (which is phenomenal, by the way). It made it sound like it was the first thing from a person of color I had ever read.
The minute I passed the microphone I felt truly sick, knowing I had perpetuated the very real stereotype of straight white privileged women in a single breath.
I wanted to jump across the couch, grab the microphone out of the next person’s hands and yell, “Wait! Wait! My brain caught up to me! Navajo American Mark Charles and his work on the Doctrine of Discovery has been a pivotal voice for me these past several years!” I wanted to share about my friend Pastor Anthony Smith’s prophetic writing and incarnational example, how Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, opened my eyes to mass incarceration in a way that obliterated my soul and how the late Richard Twiss’ booming prophetic voice to the white evangelical church still rings in my ears.
But alas, the moment was gone, and I had to live with my white supremacy rearing its lovely little head in front of a whole helluva lot of people.
Yes, I could say I just made a simple mistake, that most people didn’t care, or most likely—it wasn’t even a blip on most people’s radar and I’m just being self-absorbed.
However, I also don’t want to just pretend it didn’t happen. That would just perpetuate the “white silence” that perpetuates harm.
The truth is I have relied on white voices for most of my experience.
They are the ones that roll off my tongue and whose work comes most naturally to me.
Plus, no matter how many books I proclaim to read, I am a perpetuator and benefactor of white supremacy.
Owning that over and over again is the learning here.
The shame monster raged that night. I tossed and turned and cried and paced the streets in the bad neighborhood of my head. I wanted to flee, find an early flight home, do anything to protect my shame.
However, I’ve been around long enough to know running and hiding wouldn’t help.
Truth telling would.
I am grateful for white female friends who processed with me, and my husband, Jose, who always lightens the load.
The next morning I knew I had to show up without blindly trying to make it right or explain my white fragility to friends of color who are completely exhausted by us.
I also got clarity that there is something I can, indeed, do.
I can acknowledge I have a lot to learn.
I can acknowledge that I have barely scratched the surface in what I’ve read and who I’ve been taught by.
I can own my white supremacy. And I can begin to unravel the threads that keep me complicit in white supremacy.
I can honor that even though my response was an epic fail and not true to boot, I can still share what I wish I had said in a small attempt to make something right.
Here, now, I can properly honor the work of Mark Charles on the Doctrine of Discovery, which for me has been a crucial foundational piece in this conversation of race and systemic change.
Mark, who came to The Refuge earlier this year for a learning party, does incredible work unpacking it and helping us understand how deep the roots of injustice are embedded, not only into the formation of our country but far before that in the foundation of Christianity and our churches.
I urge you to study his work, watch this video in its entirety and ponder it in deep places of your heart.
In addition to the books and people I have already linked to above, consider Kaitlin Curtice’s list of 25 Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Be Reading and following some new people on social media.
I’m going to take a month off here, post this same post on Patheos this week, too, and hope you will seriously consider listening and learning from their voices for a while—not mine–and not ones you have already been formed by.
These voices from the margins are the ones we desperately need to hear.
I know there are countless others, but here’s a very small start from my list. Feel free to share yours, too.
Kaitlin Curtice’s List–25 Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Be Reading
Websites for several speakers from Evolving Faith:
- Austin Channing Brown
- Kaitlin Curtice
- Sandra Van Opstal
- Cindy Wang Brandt
- Osheta Moore
- Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney
- Jeff Chu
- Anthony Smith
- Mark Charles
- Richard Twiss
- Vahisha Hasan’s Implicit Bias Course in January with Transform Network
- Christena Cleveland’s, DisUnity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep us Apart
- SURJ Faith Showing Up for Racial Justice podcast