“Yearning for a new way will not produce it. Only ending the old way can do that. You cannot hold onto the old all the while declaring that you want something new. The old will defy the new; the old will deny the new; the old will decry the new. There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it.” Neale Donald Walsch
A Word of Hope
The spiritual journey doesn’t allow for a lot of coasting. While certainly we have periods of release from our striving and blessedly rest in God’s grace and love, again and again we are called into a deeper learning, a wider vision, a more radical compassion, a stronger commitment to justice. One of these large lessons is about decentering.
While it takes many of us a long time to truly believe that God loves us beyond our wildest imaginings and intimately abides with us in the core of our being, mature spirituality also teaches: “It’s not about you.” At least it’s not about our ego-self, our false self. Yet this is an essential lesson taught by our wisdom teachers, contemplative prayer, and sometimes by the crash-landings of experience. Decentering in this larger sense asks us to release all that blocks us from the fullness of God in our lives.
For those of us who are white, decentering in our anti-racism work is extraordinarily important. A beginning is heightening our awareness of all that our privilege has afforded us historically and in our current lives. Peggy McIntosh of the Wellesley Center for Women has generated the following questions to raise consciousness about this issue. https://projecthumanities.asu.edu/content/white-privilege-checklist
Moreover, we can listen for whose voice is dominant in relationships, whose voice inserts itself most prominently in our meetings—and is most affirmed by authority figures. People of color commonly experience being marginalized or having an idea “hijacked” by a white colleague and only supported after they speak it.
Even when we truly yearn to become better co-conspirators in the pursuit of justice, we regularly stumble. Too often we want to tearfully “confess” our past racist sins to our siblings of color, relieving our own guilt. Some African American authors are very direct about this tendency: Don’t do it. Do your own work. Sadly, it is easy to “take umbrage” when we hear this message. But relinquishing that is part of the work of decentering. And as we draw closer with our beloveds of color, we become more sensitive to how exhausting and painful are the daily burdens of systemic racism (even in our churches), workplace prejudice, inequity, and microaggressions.
Though there is much more to say and learn about this topic, it is essential to “loving our neighbors” to undertake decentering in the hard and holy work of justice. To do that, we must get used to being uncomfortable. *
Hold us in your strong right hand, O God, as we set out for the higher ground of Justice and Love. Amen.
Dr. Pat Saxon
*A banner at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis gives instructions for honoring that sacred space—one to the general population, but another to whites, including decentering. https://sputniknews.com/us/202104221082697169-in-particular-white-people-given-special-instructions-at-the-entrance-to-george-floyd-square/