Erika Sanders, Beloved Community Staff Team
As Unity’s antiracist multicultural work has grown and become more complex, opportunities for congregants to be involved have sprouted in nearly every part of church life. Individually and in community, congregation members are engaging with the Double Helix Model of Faith Formation and Antiracist Multiculturalism and becoming deeply intentional about their spiritual practices.
To discuss this further, I interviewed Mike Funck who recently completed a three-year term as a Teaching Associate. I wanted to know how Mike had experienced antiracist multiculturalism as an embedded part of his church life.
Erika: Tell me about what you learned as a Teaching Associate, and how it shaped your understanding of the relationships between religion and multiculturalism.
Mike: We began with a deep dive into the history of liberal theology, which was both fascinating and challenging. I had a profound “a-ha” moment, a realization about the vast interconnectedness of things we do at Unity Church, and how all our work can be connected to the process of faith formation and antiracist multicultural work. Monthly worship themes, Chalice Circles, Open Page Writing Sessions, everything I had been a part of, all began to feel like a spiritually connected whole.
Erika: As a Teaching Associate, did you work with the Double Helix Model?
Mike: Yes, I did. People say the Double Helix is a good example of why we have a bumper sticker at Unity that reads, “It’s Complicated!” And I understand that — it’s not simple. But at the same time, it makes sense to me. The Double Helix Model helps me pull disparate ideas together and I use the model as a road map. Grappling with the model was a good way for me to understand both what had existed in my life before, and what I can do differently in the future. The graphic elements of the model and the mural-like graphic that was created at a Team Dynamics event help me look at the whole, but also to enter into the work one piece at a time. The videos created for the Team Dynamics event were very helpful to me, too.
Erika: Have you changed your ways of interacting with the world as a result? Or have you developed new practices?
Mike: The process has reinforced two key things: the importance of listening, and of speaking for myself alone. These practices resonate across everything I do and have helped me be more intentional about interacting across differences that may be cultural. On the surface, many interactions and differences may not seem to be about race or culture but in fact are, and present opportunities to learn and become better. As part of the Teaching Associate experience, we write up “case studies,” which are concise descriptions of a situation we experienced or observed in which cultural or racial differences were handled less than ideally, and how deeply that affected peoples’ lives. In each case study, we talked about what happened and explored what could have happened instead.
The process opened my eyes to the multiplicity of ways we could respond to cross-cultural situations. This not only helped me to develop skills related to intercultural competency, but also enriched my spiritual practices and understanding of faith. This is something we do continually because we experience life and change continually. It’s a lifetime learning project.
Erika: How has this changed your world outside of Unity Church?
Mike: In our sometimes-contentious society, it’s not unusual to run across people with perspectives that I find offensive or wrong. It’s difficult to know what to do when someone says something objectionable. That’s when I re-engage in the power of listening. If I then share my own views, it’s not in the spirit of telling someone else what to say or think, it’s simply sharing my perspective which may be different than their perspective. Even with that intellectualization, it’s still hard to do. That’s why it’s a practice.
Erika: What has led you to be a spiritually curious person?
Mike: I’ve always been curious and loved to learn. In my profession as a technical writer, I loved to approach projects with the goal of understanding their complexity and connectedness, asking “how does this all fit together?” It’s similar to the way I’ve learned about antiracism and multiculturalism as part of my journey at Unity. It’s one thing to be generally aware and curious about things, but another to crack the book open a bit more, learn more about ourselves and understand that race is a component of our lives, even when we don’t see it. It requires understanding the systemic racism that is baked in and, for many white people, not apparent at the surface level. It’s necessary to pull it apart. Dismantling anything like systemic racism generates pushback. Thankfully, my experience with groups at Unity is one of growing with fellow pilgrims. We may or may not think and feel the same, but we have a commonality of spirit. When we share trust and vulnerability in a group or “go deep fast,” our capacity to grow is profound.
Laura Park, Beloved Community Staff Team and Director of Membership and Hospitality
In the fifth SoulWork video, Team Dynamics co-founder and President Alfonso Wenker and Minister of Faith Formation KP Hong further explore the necessity of having an among antiracist multiculturalism practice. Alfonso begins where KP left off in the fourth SoulWork video, responding to the paradox of among and to the temptation to move to structurelessness to accommodate individualism. As we focus on and critique structure and process, however, we distract ourselves from the conversation we need to have about whiteness, racism, and the ways in which we’re reinforcing or dismantling white dominant culture.
The ability to recognize White Supremacy Culture Characteristics, as outlined by Tema Okun, is a helpful skill to support the conversations we need to have about whiteness and racism. Once we understand how perfectionism, defensiveness and the other characteristics reinforce white supremacy, then we can employ their antidotes so that these qualities develop a more right-sized place in congregation life and elsewhere. The antidotes particularly help us avoid weaponizing the characteristics of white supremacy culture and our naming of them against each other.
As Tema writes, “I have come to understand that some people, when introduced to the ‘White Supremacy Culture’ article and its list of characteristics, respond with anger, thinking that my goal in listing the characteristics is to shame or blame. Sometimes people are angry about being connected to any of the characteristics, feeling that to admit we have perfectionist tendencies or a belief that our way is the right way makes us bad..." Instead of feeling bad, the antidotes invite us into work that can better build the Beloved Community.
Practices among us support the work of recognizing the characteristics of White Supremacy Culture and employing antidotes to right-size those characteristics. In the next SoulWork video, KP and Alfonso explore the impact of these among practices further, in a faith context.
SoulWork for you:
On the paradox of among:
Spend a week noticing the paradox of among that Alfonso and KP explore in this video.
Beloved Community Resources
Unity Justice Database
Team Dynamics House of Intersectionality
Anti-Racism Resources in the Unity Libraries Collection
Creative Writers of Color in Unity Libraries
The History of Race Relations and Unity Church, 1850-2005
Beloved Community Staff Team
The Beloved Community Staff Team (BCST) strengthens and coordinates Unity’s antiracism and multicultural work, and provides opportunities for congregants and the church to grow into greater intercultural competency. We help the congregation ground itself in the understanding of antiracism and multiculturalism as a core part of faith formation. We support Unity’s efforts to expand our collective capacity to imagine and build the Beloved Community. Here, we share the stories of this journey — the struggles, the questions, and the collaborations — both at Unity and in the wider world.
The current members of the Beloved Community Staff Team include Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, Rev. KP Hong, Rev. Lara Cowtan, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Lia Rivamonte and Angela Wilcox.