All You Can Ever Know

“When we rode home together that afternoon, side by side in the backseat of his mother’s blue sedan, I was silent and so was he, pretending nothing had happened between us that day.  But inside of me, something still and deep, something precious, had broken.”

Within the first chapter of Nicole Chung’s book, All You Can Ever Know, she’s heard her first racist slur.  A schoolmate pulls “his eyes into slits”, sing-song chanting at her before they hop in the carpool together, like nothing happened.  It’s only the 2nd grade, but the parents who adopted her at birth had insisted on being colorblind, which means this is her first introduction to race.

It’s taken me months to figure out why this book was so impacting — why I carried her story around in my heart as one of my own.  Its influence on me didn’t entirely make sense, aside from the writer’s axiom that the more specific and personal the work, the more universal it is.  But there is something more here, something I may not entirely want to talk about. Continue reading “All You Can Ever Know”

The Already and the Not Yet of MLK

MLK Jr. Day has become a special day for me over the past decade.  It was at an MLK celebration over ten years ago that I became painfully aware that the seeds of racism were still buried and growing in the soil of my soul… and my own unawareness of it was hard to accept.  It wasn’t just that I was ignorant; for the first time I saw what a luxury it was to be ignorant.  Being able to ignore race matters is what you might call a privilege.

As I became more aware of the real and subtle presence of racism today – in this country and also in my heart – it led me to learn more.  After all, that was my real offense, wasn’t it, thinking it was all fine because it was all fine in my white world?

The obvious next step was to Continue reading “The Already and the Not Yet of MLK”

Stained Glass Leadership

Note: this post is building on the image of seeing God through stained glass and will make more sense if you read Stained Glass first.

If we have been talking as though we had direct access to the “sunlight”, it can be shocking when we become aware of how our worldview refracted that light.  My worldview is the stained glass through which I see the world outside my cathedral but also God.  Art, music, my DNA, science, experiences, friendships, parents, leaders, and increasingly news sources contribute to and sustain a worldview.  It’s important to note that it’s not the experiences themselves, but how I interpret them – or who I let interpret for me – that form the worldview.  Becoming aware that we are interpreting at all has felt like a crisis.

I’ve always had a worldview

I’ve always had a worldview – everyone does – but I haven’t always been aware of it.  One example of this occurred during the months I spent in conversation about race with my friend Reggie.  As he generously shared his experience as an African-American I realized the view from my pupils were framed entirely by the whites of my eyes.  MLKI would have said America works a certain way without acknowledging that it doesn’t work that way for all Americans.   I found myself in tears at a Martin Luther King Jr rally, seeing for the first time how my worldview had led to my conclusions, and how King’s vision for America was not just better for African-Americans, but for all Americans.

When we first travel to another country it surprises us to learn that the once-perceived universal experience, was only (in my case) an American view.  We were measuring the world in inches and feet and come to find out most of the world uses metric.  Steadfastly clinging to the way we’ve always done things, even when centimeters and kilometers make more sense.

I’ve been travelling lately

I’ve been travelling lately, at least ideologically (see Two Tribes), and wondering just who else is seeing this.  There was a time when our community of faith was a small, homogenous group, going the same direction with the same set of beliefs.  Or did I just imagine it that way?  But then my own young family was the same: two adults seeing eye to eye driving around a minivan of kids to the same destination, eating identical ham sandwiches and interpreting the world together as it passed outside those tinted van windows.  Now those kids are young adults with differing views, off to college and back carrying new ideas to integrate with the old.

I feel like a congregant gone off to college, trying to figure out “what else” father church may have been wrong about.

And likewise, as I approach my community of faith, it feels both wider and narrower.  Narrower in its stated doctrines and statements; but surely wider in the views of the people sitting around me.  As I start to think more critically in my adult years, I feel like a congregant gone off to college, trying to figure out “what else” father church may have been wrong about.  When we realize voices that we trusted for direction are also looking at the world through stained glass, it magnifies the shock.  Their interpretation of the world’s events and sacred texts, mixed with their experience of what has worked for them in the past, what they have thought through and already decided, all contribute to the advice they pass on to us.  If I’m honest I feel disappointed that we are not all interpreting new experiences in the same way.  Being together was better.

Going back home

If you are in leadership, ask yourself if this was not also true about your leaders growing up.  Did you find yourself growing to the point where you disagreed with them and would lead in a different way? That is your maturity and freedom do so, especially since they were leading in a different time and world than you are now.  This idea then is timeless, and generational, and should not be thought of in a personal way.

But it is scary to confront those you’ve been treating with god-like status.  Even though we ourselves gave them too much power it’s still hard to take it back.  This is especially tricky with religious leaders because who God is, and who the leader has told us God is, will need separating.   This is a common point where people walk away from both, but we must push through because God is too mysterious and expansive and generous to be lost over a mere human.

Have we lost the hope of standing on common or solid ground?  No!  Only when we put too much weight on that which cannot bear it.  We can learn from our leaders if we retain a sense of thinking for ourselves.  We can grow in our community – and retain our sense of self – when we enjoy the commonality but don’t glom onto others as if every single DNA chromosome is a match.  We can grow life out of sacred scriptures that don’t pretend to be science books but whisper the story we long to hear:  where we came from and where we’re going, how loved we are and that we don’t bear the burden of being the center of it all.

The glass may be stained, but the light still shines through.

stainglassreflection2

♦ weekendswell ♦

See also Stained Glass and Stained Glass Communities. Make sure to subscribe to be notified of the next post.
MLK illustration source: http://studentengagement.kennesaw.edu/msa/MLK.php