Shelley Butler, Beloved Community Communications Team
It was unusually cold that last Saturday in January 2023 when the Parish Hall filled up with people attending “Change, Conflict, and Complexity: Antidotes and Spiritual Practices,” an antiracism training/workshop led by Alfonso Wenker of Team Dynamics. If you have never heard Alfonso, watch for the next opportunity, as he is informative and wise, and frankly, he could read the phone book and make it sound compelling.
As I looked around the room of eighty or so, I was impressed with the number of people whom I did not know or had never seen at a Team Dynamics event before, a sign of widening interest in antiracist multiculturalism at Unity Church? Also attending were many people I knew who typically attend these events, a sign of unwavering commitment to this work. There was energy in the room!
The workshop focused on three parts: 1) comfort and certainty, 2) antidotes to white supremacy, and 3) archetypes in conflict. After each part, small groups met to discuss the ways in which we personally engaged with the topic.
Complexity enters the equation as practice. Simply knowing the language, reading a book, or listening to a lecture on antiracism is not the same as practicing antiracism. There isn’t a set of instructions for social justice work, and neither is it finite. As much as we might want someone to just tell us what to do to fix the “oops” (the way that white supremacy treats racism), this work requires moving into practices that serve social/racial justice.
These practices include less certainty and more questions, less focus on comfort and more on being present to the moment, less blame and more listening. Alfonso reminded us, “Discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning.”
Our paired and small group discussions were exercises in discomfort as we were asked not only to examine our own behaviors and intentions but to share them. What is my relationship to certainty? What choices have I made to maintain my own comfort? In my racial justice work, when do I notice a pull to be right? What practices would I like to incorporate/give attention to in my spiritual and social justice work? What do I want to shed or release in my work?
Uncharacteristically, I chose to join a small group of people that I did not know very well or at all. But as typically happens at Unity, we opened up with each other, exposed vulnerabilities, and supported each other’s point of view, even when it was negative or we didn’t agree. I left each group the better for the conversation, the points of view, and the sense of connection in community.
Recognizing ourselves in the “Characteristics of White Supremacy” is typically a lesson in humility–we learn here the conscious and unconscious things we do that support white supremacy. But the lesson didn’t stop there.
Carolyn Caswell remarked, “I really appreciated continuing the discussion about racial injustice and white supremacy, and this is the first time I’ve seen answers or solutions or antidotes to white supremacy.”
Unity Trustee Mary Hernandez said, “What stuck out to me was the invitation to greet white supremacy where it shows up with antidotes. And to really work to reflect on those and try to weave them into the way that I walk in the world.”
The third and last section of the program helped us understand the nature of conflict, and how to practice trusting, healthy conflict. Conflict is not necessarily bad and does not mean that something is broken. We were encouraged to think of conflict as “us against the problem,” instead of “us against them.” Come to a conflict with the understanding of shared purpose or interdependency, rather than believing there is only one solution or that your way is the right way. Be ready to listen to how others perceive the issue and explore possible solutions. These are more generative conflict practices.
Kim Chapman offered this thoughtful reflection on the morning:
Image Credit: From the cover of Turning Towards Each Other Workbook by Jovida Ross and Weyam Ghadbian; Illustration & Graphic Design by Shirien Damra.
Rebecca Gonzalez-Campoy, Beloved Community Communications Team
Interim Pastoral Care Minister Rev. Karen Gustafson professes to be a “keeper of the center,” someone who is not leading us in our antiracist multicultural work at Unity Church-Unitarian, rather she’s walking along side us, doing the work together.
“I am regularly examining my white privilege and my own whiteness,” says Gustafson. What this means can best be explained by a story. She recounts driving home from work to her home on the North Shore. She hit a deer which caused significant damage to her small car, but she was unhurt. Her friends exclaimed how terrible! But Gustafson uses this story to illustrate white privilege (emphasis is hers). “I was driving home from my job along the North Shore of Lake Superior in my car. I called AAA who said I would pay less for towing if I used my car insurance to cover towing fees since I was out of AAA service range. My husband came to get me in another car. I went home and slept while my car was collected and repaired.” She didn’t miss any work and if she had needed to do so, her employer would have allowed it.
“I was aware of how different the experience if any of these things had not been in place,” Gustafson says. She recounts other similar moments of awareness that reveal entitlement and ignorance. “I am mindful of asking myself, am I expressing white fragility?”
Her mindset is to notice her reactions, motivations, and reluctance in any given situation. “Being truly multicultural is demanding us (white people) to look deeply at what we take for granted. Consider how people discuss fairness. It’s from the perspective of what they don’t have. It’s seldom aimed at what they do have.”
Gustafson calls this awareness of historical white privilege. “If you want to really upset me, tell me ‘you deserve that!’ I can’t live long enough to make this true. So much of what people receive comes from circumstance beyond our control.”
She’s learned to examine her own racism from a place of curiosity, not judgment. She comes from a background which included little racial diversity but exposed her to a wide range of socio-economic differences. Part of this work requires accountability to others. She plans to participate in Unity’s Antiracism Literacy Partners to explore the works of those on the margins and then engage in group conversation about the spiritual impact and possible next right actions to take. As she gets settled into her home in the Twin Cities, where there is greater opportunity to interact with many cultures, she plans to look for ways to get out of her comfort zone, “to question my own assumptions.”
This making space for the stories of others is what pastoral care is all about. “I describe my theology as God of the Gaps,” says Gustafson. “Healing and grace happen in the space we create between us, when we make space to hold someone’s story. As (author) Parker Palmer puts it, to allow for the inner teacher to make itself known.”
Antiracism Literacy Partners will meet on Wednesday, November 16.
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.
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, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Rev. Karen Gustafson, Angela Wilcox, Pauline Eichten, and Erika Sanders.