Written by Beth Miller ~ Published February 9, 2000 ~ Last Updated, February, 2000 ©
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Claiming the call to justice-filled relationships
Jan 7-9, 2000 was the date of a young adult retreat held at Camp Eder, sponsored by both the Southern PA District and On Earth Peace Assembly. The retreat was attended by 15 young adults, from PA, Washington DC, NY, MD, IN, and some from as far away as Illinois . Our discussions were ecumenical because joyfully five of the participants who joined us for the weekend were not members of the Church of the Brethren. We also had to acknowledge that at a retreat looking at racism, our brothers and sisters of color were very under represented, with only one female of color - one of the leaders of the weekend. The leaders for the weekend were Keturah Laney and Derek Lehman, who both work on college campuses in student houses as Education Coordinators. Worship services were led by Greg Laszakovits, Anti-Racism Coordinator for the General Board.
In an opening exercise led by Barb Leininger-Dickason, from OEPA, we wrestled with the issue of conflict resolution, literally. We broke into 2 teams, and after given a huge length of rope, we were each told our goal was to get as much of the rope as possible. There was much tugging and pulling, even running over to the over side to take the end of the rope the other side was not guarding. But after some time, we discovered we were at a standstill, and frustrated. We also, after much sweat and planning, weren't even really sure what all the tugging was about. So one team decided to simply let go of the rope. There was relief on both sides of the rope that the struggle was over. There had been a lot of tension between the two groups in this fight for the rope, but it was unclear what the struggle was for, since the more we struggled, the only thing we got was tired.
And so began our study of having privilege. We all wanted the privilege of having the rope, but when the exercise is approached with an us verses them attitude, eventually things simply break down into a grunt match of who can pull the hardest. And there was danger involved. Sometimes in the attempt to get more rope, people got tangled up in the rope in such a way that pulling on the rope pulled people in a painful way.
As we strive to live a life with access to material goods and our own personal dignity intact, do we, by way of force, deny people the right to have material goods and personal dignity? We can easily admit, as people who are predominately of German heritage, middle class, and Protestant, we come from a very privileged subset of the world. What is very hard to admit is that as a member of that privileged group, we are oppressing other groups in order to have our privileges. An article written by Peggy McIntosh entitled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack exposed everyday activities in which having white skin gives one opportunities and advantages that are expected by the culture as normal, but truly are not conferred on all people equally. McIntosh writes, I see a pattern running through the matrix of white privilege, a pattern of assumptions which were passed on to me as a white person...It seems to me that obliviousness about white advantage...is kept strongly inculturated in the United States so as to maintain the myth of meritocracy, the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all.
Two videos, a documentary on the LA riots and a Prime Time special were presented to examine issues of racism, the effects of injustice towards blacks in the US, and the depth of emotion and anger over racial injustice. We spent time creating time lines of significant historical events in the US and within the Church of the Brethren. We then looked at a time line created by a group of multicultural educators and noted how few non-white persons and events we had placed on our own time line. We discussed our isolation from multiculturalism, our unawareness of events that are not WASP and how that lack of education can further widen the gap between racial groups. We spent time discussing how to raise our own personal awareness of race, ethnicities, and prejudice.
I was made aware this weekend that I have been on both (undeserving) ends of discrimination. It is only through God's love that I can come away from these experiences and not perpetuate discrimination, either from my own woundedness or out of obliviousness to how my wielding power takes power away from others. For we read in Ephesians 2:14-19, For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household.
Outside of the sessions on privilege, we had time to worship and time to play. A particularly meaningful worship time for me was an evening of Taize worship in the Upper Room. Quiet, meditative and filled with spirit, this evening of candlelight and song brought me closer to God. Our time of worship Sunday morning included a period of meditation on scripture, singing and sinking fears and floating hopes by the creek that runs through Camp Eder. The participants played just as hard as they worship and studied. There was pong ping, lessons in swing dancing, board games and of course, four square. (This wouldn't have been a Brethren event without it.)
About the author
Beth Miller is a member of the Waynesboro Church of the Brethren, in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, where she serves as Sunday School teacher, Study and Special Interest Chair, and Church Renewal Team Member. She serves the Southern PA District as a Young Adult Coordinator.