Using Our Interfaith Identities to Welcome Our Whole Selves & Sit with Discomfort in Pursuit of Racial Justice

racial justice protest sign "No justice no peace"
Racial Justice Sunday Reflection, January 22, 2023

State of Racial Justice Work at IFFP

IFFP has had a racial justice Tikkun Olam group since about 2016, and the racial justice group has been meetings and conducting activities on and off since then. It started in discussion and has moved to being more involved in gatherings and had been working toward more activism when the pandemic hit. And we, of course, have put a lot of energy into keeping each other safe from a deadly disease and working towards meeting online and in hybrid settings. And many of us right now are really husbanding our resources and our energy in this time. So the group is still here, but it hasn’t been as active as it could. We welcome anyone to join us and offer ideas, suggestions, or reactions. I will start today’s reflection by inviting you to partner in this journey at IFFP if it calls to you. I own the fact that am a white, cis-gender, straight woman—I’ve taken a few workshops but there is no one right way to do this. We can create the road by walking.  I welcome opportunities to think about the best path forward for IFFP together.

So why do we work on racial justice at IFFP?  Why am I inviting you on this path? One reason I think we should is of course because our two faith traditions teach us to work toward justice and equity. But I want to focus on something a little closer to home. We all want our community to thrive and continue to grow by attracting new members and deepening our relationship with our current members. I worry that if you’re a person of color and you don’t see your faith community actively working to fight for recognition of the full breadth of your humanity here and in the world, then maybe you don’t feel 100% comfortable here. You’re going to hold something back to keep yourself safe. And if you are a white person you might not be fully vulnerable here either on matters of race. How can we be a fully vibrant spiritual community if all of our members can’t be fully themselves here and present? I want us to live up to that wonderful welcoming statement we have on our website.

Queerness, Inclusivity, and Claiming our Whole Selves 

I promised some wisdom from a thoughtful leader today. I have been learning from a wise thinker whose name is Rev. Angel Kyodo williams. She is a Black, queer, Zen priest. She is bringing meditation and contemplation to the pursuit of racial justice. And bringing racial justice to the Buddhist community.

I heard this great interview in which she talked about her Queer identity as part of her overall journey working on social justice. When she was a young adult, the word Queer was being reclaimed –moving from an insult to a proud description. People in her community valued the term “queer” because it was not binary, it was inclusive. It acknowledged ways of being fall along a broad spectrum of ways of being–not in one box or another. Rev. angel said she realized that, “No part of her identity diminished any other part of her identity.” Rev. angel was raised Baptist and spent time as an Episcopalian and her whole life as a Black woman. But she said she found the language of queerness gave her the language for everything she knows about liberation and freedom.

            And it struck me – “no part of her identity diminished any other part.” 

It struck me because we at IFFP know a lot about taking parts of our identity some people want to put in mutually exclusive camps–and deciding to nonetheless embrace all of it. We’re in interfaith relationships and interfaith families and this interfaith community. Many of us are also in inter-racial relationships, and inter-racial families, we’re creating our own families in whatever way we find meaningful.  We’ve learned to love individually and collectively across differences — differences that many people in society still do not quite find acceptable. Differences that are not acceptable, particularly if faith is still an important part of your identity.

So we know something about celebrating an inclusive whole and also about living with discomfort even though we’ve made that decision. 

Discomfort as an Opportunity for Learning

This is where Rev. angel has more to teach us. She talks about what to do in that uncomfortable place.  

Talking about race in the U.S. is darn hard. Maybe, depending on who we are, we feel guilty. We can’t face it. We don’t want to be labeled racist or apologize for who we are. We want to turn away because it feels so bad, and we feel so helpless. Or, for others, we’re tired– just so tired–of having to explain our experience to someone who just doesn’t understand. Or wondering why hasn’t anyone checked in on me, knowing who I am and what is going on in the world?

It is not comfortable. It is very hard.

Rev. angel asks us what if we could reorient away from our instinct to shy away from discomfort. She says our teachers in finding peace in our own hearts are really the people and the situations that we confront moment to moment, day to day, month to month that makes us feel awkward and uncomfortable. What if we saw those awkward moments as an opportunity for self-reflection and learning? What if …. we could be both/and rather than either/or?  

I am both bone tired of living in a culture that rejects less than fully worthy, and also willing to set aside ten minutes, an hour a week to learn more about our history. I am both uncomfortable and feeling guilty and also wondering about others and willing to walk beside them and take action. 

You don’t need to wall away that bad feeling in the pit of your stomach, you can learn from it.  Rev. angel is a Zen practitioner. She uses meditation.  But even if we don’t want to meditate, we can think and talk about it together. What does it mean that this feeling is so awful?

We in IFFP have spent a lot of time in uncomfortable spaces in pursuit of love and the families that mean so much to us. We do know how to start. And we know with persistence, our skills increase, and the bad feelings become less. Our resilience becomes stronger. We learn what to say.  We learn from and teach each other. It is not perfect, but we get better at it. 

We can, as the reading said today, in Isiah 6:1-13, become “repairers of the breach.” We can bridge the chasm, bring two sides together. We can act in accordance with the second reading, the Yiddish proverb: acting as if the person next to us is the messiah (in this room, we don’t know if that is the first or second coming of the messiah, but no matter!) 

We can act as if the person next to us is a sacred being walking the earth alongside us. I assure you that they are. 

And no amount of discomfort should stop us from walking with them.

Watch Cheryl’s Reflection at IFFP on Sunday, January 22nd, 2023



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