I am at a meeting of clergy for three days of specialized training in interim ministry. Day one focuses on theories. On the second day, the facilitator offered a few tools and way too many personal stories. But, when we began a discussion about power and he wanted to move to his next slide, the group of mostly European Americans wanted to say more. He sat down in his chair uncomfortably. He had not prepared for this.
Without prompting, they begin to critique their own privileges and then someone said, “And we need to listen to those who don’t share the same experience.” Another clergywoman saw this as an opportunity and began, “I am a black woman. I am a minority. I am powerless.” She is perhaps 20 years my senior and of a different time. She bears the scars to prove it and most of our colleagues can remember when she got them. I had only read about them and watched documentaries.
But, I realized that it was not only age or time that created distance between us. I could not agree with her statement. And while the social construct of race would suggest that we think the same and share the same beliefs, it left me no other choice but to challenge its omniscience. My heart was pounding by now; the words were throbbing in my head. “Let us out,” they seemed to say. I am not one to hold back truth so I let them go.
“I do not identify with the social construct of race. I don’t believe that human beings are colored people, that there are beige, black, brown, red, yellow or white people. I would not describe myself as a minority as we are all counted as human beings. And I am not powerless. I enter the world with power; consequently, no one can give or take my power away.”
So, apparently, I am an anomaly. My comments were met with silence– though we have a Word- God who affirms our being down to the hairs of our head (Matthew 10.30). Afterwards, another clergywoman thanked me for sharing my perspective. She wished she could see as I did. For me, she, too, was expressing powerlessness. “These are not my eyes. I am not in control of what I see. I can’t see anything else.”
She went on to talk about the fights that she had engaged in for the rights of others. I expressed that I had also chosen not to start there. I do not have to live on a battlefield. I have rejected the fights of the past, decided not to enlist or allow anyone to force me to sign up. No human being can tell me who I am or am not– and I don’t have to fight for my identity.
She started to credit her generation for my position but this too was rejected. God had given me this vision: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.18, NRSV). This was not my problem because I accepted God’s promise. I pray that you would accept it as well.
Receive this holy vision. This is my prayer. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.