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Letting God Out: The Process of Becoming Anti-RacistBy Gena Minnix
“Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack… in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” These words from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” sometimes surface for me in unexpected moments. When they do, I often think something to the effect of, “that sounds nice… I should try it sometime.” But I’m not sure I know exactly how to forget something that’s so ingrained; how does one simply forget any notion of perfection, especially with a culture as performance-oriented as ours?
When I think about places in life where I yearn to give a perfect offering–a peak performance–anti-racism is a significant one. I long for solutions to the problem of racism; and as a White American, I recognize I’ve been socialized to assume the solution to any problem will probably be found in my ingenuity, know-how, and ability to figure out how to do the thing. Put simply, I’ve been raised to think the solution to racism will probably arrive in the package of my “perfect offering”–my performance delivered perfectly.
But this way of thinking is also racially-biased. And with that growing awareness, when Cohen’s words again resurfaced for me last November, they sounded different to my ears. The moment came when I was reading Megan Allen’s soul-stirring post “Soul Afire” in Sowing Holy Questions. Allen’s piece invited us to reflect on a painting she created–a meditation on an image she described as cracks in the shell of the sphere, with light shining through the cracks, accompanied by these words from God: “To be consumed by me is not about letting me in, but rather letting me out of where I already exist.”
This reflection has shifted some of my thinking about the process of becoming anti-racist.
Here’s how the meditation impacted me; we’ll take it piece by piece, starting with the cracks. Because I care deeply about racial justice, I often want the equivalent of “fresh clay” to smooth over the cracks in my cross-racial interactions. I crave anti-racist words to seal up the fractures in our divided systems. I dream of “corrective emotional experiences” that will repair the breaks between us and leave our nation racially whole.
I’m also aware, where race is concerned, this nation has never been whole. The idea that racism is simply a crack in an otherwise “perfect vessel” of a culture–one that can be fixed by finding the right adhesive–is clearly a falsehood and a perhaps a dangerous one for it keeps us focused “out there” looking for the right fix. So what might be another way to think about it?
Allen’s reflection nudges me in the ribs, “Consider the body.” How does a fractured body heal? When I consider this, my mind goes to a burgundy chair in the corner of my mother’s living room where she spent three months after her leg was shattered last year. Day by day–hour by hour–my mother and I created the conditions necessary for her bones to heal themselves: tender care and exquisite protection from additional injury. And the bone did find a way to heal; once again the body was made whole. Our bodies possess phenomenal capacity to heal when injured; it’s miraculous to witness. And the body only asks of us the smallest of things: create the necessary conditions.
Yet if we continue shattering the same leg repeatedly, without providing the conditions necessary for healing, we should not be surprised when we find we cannot walk forward without collapsing. Allen reminds us, the same is true for our individual embodied selves: “So often when we speak of reconciliation and healing, we exclude ourselves from the equation. Afraid of our own brokenness, we focus our attention outward in an attempt to save others from feeling the same pain we feel and often refuse to acknowledge to ourselves.”
Let’s consider then a third piece in Allen’s image of the cracks: the light shining–not into but out from those cracks. Whereas Cohen had invited us to imagine the cracks as the places where the light gets in, what if, as Allen suggests, the light is already inside? How might that change our understanding of both the vessel and the cracks–and in turn, our notion of what the conditions for wholeness might require?
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 4:6).
These words attributed to the apostle Paul were brought to my mind by Allen’s vision of God speaking light into existence with a peculiar directionality–out of darkness rather than into it. What if the light–the solution–has been inside all along, and White America’s attempts to seal up the cracks up with a “perfect offering” are making the problem worse, not better? What if the entire substance or purpose of the vessel needs rethinking? Can we venture to imagine a way of living together that allows us to both “hold the light collectively within us” and “let it shine out through us?”
I don’t know but I hear Allen’s urging to engage this question by turning inward, through small daily practices: nourishment, meditation, contemplation, creativity, acceptance of our soft, fleshy anatomy which requires exquisite attention (and holds wisdom about the conditions necessary for wholeness). And paying attention to this invitation does shift my perspective away from my desire to “make a perfect offering” in conversations about race, power, and privilege, and towards the perhaps harder, more vulnerable work of self-reflection. In the process of becoming anti-racist, I see those attempts at “doing anti-racism perfectly” now as misguided–racist in fact. They are attempts to figure out how to offer the perfect fix to the wrong problem.
Allen’s piece drew my focus beyond repairing a cracked vessel out there to healing a fractured body in here. It shifted my focus away from “letting God in”, toward wondering how to “let God out.” I’m wondering now what it means to “forget my perfect offering” in conversations about race, power, and privilege. A starting place may be paying attention to my own embodied experience in those conversations, and tuning into the embodied experience of others in the moment as well. “I feel heavy…” “That story took my breath away…” “I see your tears…. ” These interactions rooted in our embodied selves may seem small, but the perspective shift beneath them may be quite large. And as our perspective shifts, I wonder how that might lead us to engage anti-racism as a practice of attending to the interpersonal conditions necessary for the healing and wholeness of all human bodies, starting with our own, and letting the light inside here help to illuminate what needs to change out there.
Questions for further reflection:
What would happen if White Americans were less preoccupied with making a “perfect offering” in conversations about race, power, and privilege?
How can tending to our own embodied selves remind us of the conditions necessary for healing and wholeness?
Where is God already inside our racist, imperfect systems?
What if the process of becoming anti-racist is less about “bringing God’s light in” and more “letting God’s light shine out?”
This spring, the Sowing Holy Questions blog will focus on issues of racial healing. Writers will reflect on what has been done, what change ought to happen, and offer visions for healing in our communities.
Dr. Gena Minnix is the Director of the Loise Henderson Wessendorff Center for Christian Ministry and Vocation, and Associate Professor of Counselor Education at Seminary of the Southwest. She is a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist and her research and scholarship explores the relationship between theology and neuroscience. In 2013, Gena helped co-found The Human Empathy Project, a nonprofit in Austin that exists to foster empathic connection with members of faith and LGBTQ communities. She worships with Vox Veniae church in Austin, TX.
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