Last week Ms. Ruby Nell Sales offered our Conference an amazing keynote address for our 2021 Annual Gathering theme, “The Elephant in the Room: Listen. Reflect. Learn”.
Her words touched many of us in just the way we needed in this time of high anxiety, stress and pain as we deal with racism (and all the other “isms” people are confronted with every day), wildfires, and continued pandemic, to name just a few.
A question that she asks that has provided some deep conversations in the “Let’s Talk About Race” group is, “Where does it hurt?”
I was thinking of her question the other day when I heard an Oprah podcast where a book she has co-authored asks the question, “What happened to you?”
These can be tough questions. Both questions ask us to look inside at our own hurts and our own life circumstances that have led us to do and say things that keep us stuck. Where are the places in our lives where our deep hurts keep us from seeing how the way we show up in the world does not connect what we believe about ourselves?
As members of the United Church of Christ, we pride ourselves on being first to justice and understanding terms like unconscious bias and micro-aggressions. But understanding those terms with our head and understanding them with our heart can be two different things. Where are the hurts in our lives that prevent us from seeing how the very thing that we say we understand, shows up in the way we behave in particular situations?
What has happened to us in our lives that influences whether we have the courage to speak out and stand up to racism and oppression? What has happened to us in our lives that is so embedded in our very being that we don’t even recognize when it shows up as a blind spot in our journey for authentic relationships with all of God’s creation?
What are the hurts in our lives that cause us to re-live those painful experiences in encounters with people who remind us of what we want to forget?
What are the events in our lives from months or years ago that impact the way we feel about a particular situation or shows up in the way we respond to that current reality?
These are a lot of questions, I know. They are questions that I am doing my best to ask myself every day. I see how a reaction to an event is connected to something that happened last week or last year or three decades ago. And, when I look at it from that perspective, it can change the way I respond or at least provides an awareness of what I need to work on in my own life.
I believe this is part of what it means when people tell those of us who are aware of our privilege that we need to do our own work and cannot expect people who have experienced the effects of our privilege to tell us what we have done wrong. This is why it is important for us to find others who share our similar privilege to work on our “stuff” together so we are not burdening someone else by asking them to teach us.
“The Elephant in the Room: Listen. Reflect. Learn.”
This theme for our 2021 Annual Gathering is an invitation for us to do just that—listen to what is happening in our life; reflect on where it hurts or on what has happened to us; learn from those experiences so we can begin to undo the generations of damage that systemic racism and systemic prejudice has created in us and in the world around us.