Wednesday, May 7, 2008

In Relation to the Rev. Wright, A Memo

Here is what I wrote to my congregation this week in our weekly newsletter. My apologies for any formatting issues. I took this from a copy clip that was unformatted, and the computer jumbled some words together, etc. I felt we would be remiss if we did not start speaking explicitly about liberation theology again in this ripe moment, while it is in the national conversation. I do believe that living religion can not distance itself from the world in which it is living.

R E L I G I O U S E D U C A T O R’ S M E M O
“Power As a Source of Power”

“All people have a major task, from cradle to grave, of defining who theyare” -- Na'im Akbar

My son M. woke up wanting to wrestle this morning. He walked over to me, not with blinking half-awake eyes as he sometimes does, but instead with wide open eyes, and a giddy grin on his face. “Arh!” he growled as he jumped onto me, indicating his playful initiation of our “mama lion-lion cub” game.

My wife G. commented the other day that M. has been something of a“class clown” lately. “Remember when he was just six months old and we werewriting down his personal strengths for that developmental assessment?” I asked her. “We did write that his number one strength was his sense of humor. It’s part of his identity.”

In 1982, B. Harro created a “cycle of socialization diagram” that I find useful. It is printed in the book Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook by Maurianne Adams. If you have internet access, plug "‘Cycleof Socialization Diagram’ +Harro” into Google, and it will bring you to Google Books (last link) where you can see the diagram in the book.

In this diagram, Harro postulated that we are “born into a world with mechanics in place. We have no information.” Through our lives, we are socialized, that is, taught on a personal level by parents, relatives, teachers, people we love and trust. We are shaped by their expectations, norms, values, roles, and models of how we should be. This is our lens of identity.

However, Harro went further to illustrate that we also have a lens of socialization and teaching, in which we are bombarded on conscious and unconscious levels with messages from institutions such as churches, schools, television, the legal system, medical and mental health systems, and businesses, as well as from the practices, lyrics, language, media, and patterns of thought of our culture.

Through this, our lens of identity is enforced, sanctioned, or stigmatized. We receive positive and negative feedback about ourselves. We receive privilege and persecution, discrimination and empowerment. This is our lens of experience.

Before G. and I were foster licensed in [state], we were required to take a thirty-hour foster parent training called “Parent’s Resource forInformation, Development, and Education (PRIDE).” During this course, we were asked to name the sources of our socialization: the people and institutions in our lives that have served to either shape us, or reinforceus. Participants in the class called out names: “Uncle Juan,” “my mother,Glory,” “Mrs. Smith, my third grade teacher,” “Dr. Narayan.” They named schools they’d attended, jobs held, employers, clubs, sports, and faith communities. They even named foods and drinks and the social settings for these, sources of media, and hardships or privileges they could count on.

As we did this, our facilitators wrote our responses on a dry erase board. We indicated the power of each source, and accordingly, our facilitators wrote the items we named closer to or further away from the center of a circle. Current sources were indicated by a solid line to the center. Sources from the past were indicated with a dotted line. Then we were asked to identify, in sequential order starting with parents and siblings, the losses that takeplace when a child comes into foster care. Soon, the whole board was altered beyond recognition.

Our lens of experience results in a variety of internal experiences that may include among other things dissonance, silence, anger, dehumanization, guilt, collusion, ignorance, self-hatred, stress, and internalization of patterns of power. From here, we have a pathway out of the cycle which involves consciousness raising, interrupting, educating, taking a stand, questioning, or reframing. Or, we do nothing. We don’t make waves. We promote the status quo. And in this case, the cycle begins again at the lens of identity, only now, this lens is shaped by “misinformation...history...habit...tradition...prejudices...stereotypes...biases.”

This cycle is in constant relationship with our fear, ignorance, confusion, and insecurity. Renowned scholar, educator, and author (among his other books he wrote Is God a White Racist?), Dr. William R. Jones says that when we talk about “oppression,” it brings up negative connotations. In part because our own identity is in a constant relationship with fear, insecurity, and dissonance, we are unconsciously defensive and can’t associate ourselves with the notion of “oppression.” The work becomes especially intense when we begin to unpack our own bags of privilege: the way we oppress others on a daily basis (and we all do) in order to preserve our privilege. Whew! That’s tough work.

It helps to know this: power is being able to say “what the norm is.” It threatens something as precious and fragile as our identity to step out of the cycle and empower others. The power of setting the norm gives us the power of being the norm. And yet, I believe we have something even more powerful to gain by engaging in empowerment of others as we practice being gentle and loving with ourselves. That is, a move from that fear, ignorance, confusion, and insecurity, into the strength of an identity that is more fully integrated, more fully whole.

As uncomfortable as recent political tensions have been, and as much as I may not agree with some particular things that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright has said, I find myself thankful that “liberation theology” has received some attention in the national dialogue recently. Whether or not this is a part of your own theology, and absolutely regardless of what you think of the Rev. Wright, the act of studying liberation theology can be a part of a journey toward wholeness.

Warmly in Faith,

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