This past October, over 60 people from the Interfaith Center and the broader community gathered to engage in an Uncomfortable Conversation, a conversation about race, guided by Robin Stephens from the Washtenaw County Democratic Party Black Caucus. This conversation inspired some significant awareness about the challenges and opportunities of this kind of conversation, especially considering the current atmosphere in our nation.
In order to continue these efforts, I gathered a team of racially diverse women passionate about the need for and potential impact of honest conversation among people of different races. Edie Lewis, a former Social Work professor at the University of Michigan, Maymette Dolberry, a Pastor at the Brown Church in Ypsilanti, and Patricia Fero, a Social Worker and therapist, joined me in creating the race dialogue event that was conducted in November of last year. This was a more intimate conversation with deep listening and intimate sharing, done in the style of a fish bowl. The group numbered just over 20 and included people who identify as white, black or African American, multiracial, and Asian.
Out of this event, we formed 3 small groups which have since met a number of times in one another’s homes. In an effort to reduce the impacts of segregation, we are meeting in each other’s living rooms and kitchens and patios, discussing issues of race with supportive ground rules and guiding questions. For many, these have proven to be powerful conversations that are also bringing clearer awareness to where we are stuck and where we have much to learn. Here are some reflections from participants, all kept anonymous for the sake of confidentiality.
“I was a little apprehensive and realized that I was going to disclose my most intimate feelings about racism to a group of ladies that I knew nothing about. To my surprise, I felt very safe and felt my comments were genuinely accepted.”
“I am grateful for this group and look forward to more meaningful conversations…I look forward to learning and being challenged to see more clearly the racial injustice in this country and how I have been a part of it. I want to do better.”
“The bottom line is I can do more. I have a responsibility to do more. I think if everyone sat down like we did, they would feel the same. How could they not?”
We are continuing the work of race dialogues through quarterly large group gatherings at ICSG that are open to the public. We will be forming additional small groups out of these events for those who are interested. Our next quarterly gathering is scheduled for Sunday, February 4th from 1-2:30 in the ICSG sanctuary. You do not need to be part of a small group or join one in order to participate in the quarterly events, though those in small groups will be in attendance. Feel free to bring anyone you think might be interested.
This is one small, but significant way we can begin to bridge divides and create understanding. One step at a time, one person at a time, we can work to create a different future. Looking forward to continuing to share this journey with you.
By Rev. Annie Kopko
This is Part I of a four-part report on the Visioning process for the future of Interfaith. This process is led by a co-creation team and consists of four events of discovering, dreaming, designing and finally delivering for our beloved community.
We have set a timeline for community visioning for Interfaith this next year 2018, which is our 20th year as an interfaith spiritual community. We should be very proud of what we have created together, and in order to keep a strong community, every few years we need to revisit our vision for our future. 2017 was a year of profound and exciting change, with the retiring of our senior minister senior Dave Bell and the hiring of our new senior minister Lauren Tatarsky.
Everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate in each of these events, held on Saturday mornings in 2018 from 10 a.m. to noon.
Part 1—Discovering and Appreciating the Best of “What is” (already completed)
Part 2—Dreaming and Imagining “What Could Be” Jan. 20, 2018
Part 3—Designing and Determining “What Should Be” April 21, 2018
Part 4—Delivering “What Will Be” Date: TBA
Part 1 of our Vision took place on Saturday Nov. 18, 2017. Sixteen of us took part in the process. Our task was to find out what we do well, what do we value, what do we want to keep. The following is a synopsis of what we shared at this gathering.
What we do well is offer a spiritually welcoming and inclusive community that gives each of us opportunity for spiritual growth and awareness. We do this primarily through our Sunday services, which are our profoundly creative opportunity for accepting, supporting, and celebrating one another on our shared journey. Some of our favorite ways we do this is with the Namaste greeting, our meditations, readings, and especially open mic.
We know that involvement creates empowerment. Showing up happens to be important. It is a profound act of service both to ourselves and for each other. We have a chance both to listen and to be heard. We have a chance to love and be loved, support each other, and find a way to accept our own power for healing ourselves and others. This is the way we heal the world.
What never ceases to amaze me (but of course makes perfect sense) is how showing up on Sunday can help to manifest positive outcomes in our lives and work. This is how: we find acceptance of all spiritual paths; we see that expressing spirituality here at Interfaith is practice for outside; we are more confident in uncomfortable conversations; we are teaching our children by our example; we teach each other the same way. We seek and find expanded awareness, entertain unlimited possibility, and truly find a spiritual home through community
Many people are asking themselves what to do in response to the state of our world right now. That’s really good, we should be asking. Many of us are genuinely and deeply wanting to respond, but feeling a sense of overwhelm and despair, asking “what am I supposed to do? What can I do?” First of all, I want you to know that I feel paralyzed a little bit almost every day. I’ve decided it’s part of my creative process and I definitely know it’s part of choosing to engage in the world rather than turn away from it. I know that I stand up on Sunday with inspiring messages that probably make you think I never feel hopeless or paralyzed, but that’s completely untrue. In fact, some of my most powerful messages come from times when I have wrestled with a paralyzed or hopeless state. Since I like to get curious about any experience I’m having, study it, explore it, and let it stretch me, I’m trying to explore this experience of paralysis. So here are some things that are coming up for me around it. Maybe this will be helpful for you. I hope at least it offers a little support along the way.
1. Older and wiser people have told me that we are here for this moment in history because we are capable. So I remind myself that I am capable and we are capable.
2. I remind myself that there are a ton of really good people out there who feel like me and a lot of them are doing really good work. When I feel overly responsible- like somehow it is up to me and only me to solve alllll of the world’s problems (logical, I know), I remind myself of this.
3. I also remind myself that it IS time for me to be doing something, and maybe things I’ve not done before. The feeling of immense anxiety and sense of incredible urgency about the state of the world right now is really honest and it is trying to let me know that this is serious. So turn the question into a serious one rather than hopeless one. What can I do? Sit down with your creative, powerful, and energized self. Think big, get curious and excited about where this journey might take you and what big things you might be up to. When you talk yourself out of big ideas because you don’t think it will work, remind yourself this is a non-normal time and requires a non-normal response. Also the small things matter too, so don’t brush those aside. Think small and think bigger and seriously, do whatever your idea is. Just do it. Like Nike. Then help your friends get big ideas and do them too.
4. I force myself to stay with the tension. What often happens is that to escape the feeling of overwhelm and paralysis we just start avoiding everything. This is where complacency begins. So instead of fleeing from the uncomfortable tension of knowing there’s a lot of work to be done and I’m not quite sure where to start, I try to sit with that very feeling and not run from it. What’s it like just to sit with that “what can I do?” feeling. I don’t pitch a tent in it, but I don’t run from it either. I just let myself feel it for a little while. It won’t eat you alive if you don’t let it, I promise. Throw yourself a hopeless party and eat some cake, get playful with paralysis; like really ask yourself, what is this experience? Isn’t it interesting?! This is a tension that needs your consciousness. Get to know it and see what it has to teach you. Know that it connects you to a lot of people experiencing the same tension right now. Simply trying to get out of it will ensure that you just go back to your comfortable life. I’m not letting myself do that, and I’m sorry, but I can’t let you do that either.
5. I am learning to expand my container. The idea of “my container” is about what I’m able to hold, in a spiritual/emotional/psychological sense; what I’m able to include in my being. Expanding my container means, for me, the willingness to say I can hold all my own daily stresses and challenges, while also being big enough to hold the darkness of the world. I can almost physically feel myself stretch when I do this. It is definitely a real energetic experience. It means that I have to embrace the shadow fully and not be afraid of what I find. It also means I have to be really okay about not feeling good all the time. A mantra I have is, “I am strong enough and resilient enough to hold this.” Sometimes, it sounds more like, “Okay world, let’s do this thing.” So, now is the time to fully engage in a spirituality that has you wrestling with uncertainty, fear, and resiliency. There are lineages that have embraced these experiences and right now, this needs to be our spiritual practice and those are your key search words. I will tell you that this work is not easy, but it is incredibly freeing, so it is not without rich harvest. Andrew Harvey, Pema Chodron, Jean Shinoda Bolen, and Brene Brown are all good names for this.
6. If you are feeling like you are of an age where you were fighting against a lot of the same kind of stuff in the 60’s that we’re facing right now and you know your action is not going to look the same, but you want to do something- as a young person, I have an idea for you. Become a mentor, encourager, supporter of young people who are acting and needing inspiration, direction, love, and tea and cookies from someone who wants to give them some mama or papa bear love. Gather your friends and gather some young people and become their support system for their acts of catalyzing change.
7. I listen to that still, small voice within. I know my soul, my heart chakra, the Divine Mind, however you want to name it, is working with me. Sometimes we have to be patient and keep listening. Sometimes it takes a little while to hear the direction and get clarity and usually we get it from receptivity as opposed to grasping. So use your meditation time to be fiercely receptive and to trust that your soul is carrying the message you need to hear. Pause, listen, and be willing to try out what it says even if it seems totally illogical or you feel like you aren’t actually capable of doing what it is asking. You are. Just be ready to leap.
“Changing the world doesn’t happen all at once. It isn’t a big bang. It’s an evolution, the sum of a billion tiny sparks. And some of those sparks will have to come from you.” -Katie Couric
We are attending to troubling times in our world today. Since stepping into my role at ICSG, many difficult and tragic events have taken place in our community and in our world, the most recent being a number of historically destructive natural disasters. As I reflect upon the devastation in Southeast Asia, Texas, Oregon, Montana, Florida, the Caribbean Islands, and Mexico, I find myself often without words. I know many of us have been personally affected by at least one of these events and that the challenges, losses, and fears continue to play out.
As I’ve been looking for my own guidance during this time, I began to think about the role darkness has played in my own life. I reflected on the many times that I have experienced darkness, how I fight with it, how it forces me to stay anyway, and what I gain from the process of composting and stumbling back into the light. Then I happened upon this beautiful writing by one of the spiritual teachers I follow, Tirzah Firestone. She began by referring to the solar eclipse that happened last month, starting with a quote from a friend of hers:
“The most unforgettable moment was—after about two minutes of experiencing the totality—when the light of the sun, like a sparkling facet of a diamond, began peeking out from the edge…It symbolized for me that in the deepest throes of darkness the light is born.”
In response to her friend’s message, Tirzah shared the following:
“His sentiment comes right out of Kabbalah: the notion that light is born out of chaos and darkness. The 13th century Zohar says: For there is no light except that which issues from darkness… and there is no good except that which issues from evil. There is a lot of darkness in the world right now: fear, insecurity, hopelessness. How do we go about bringing light out of so much dark? I believe the Zohar is telling us that spiritual light comes not from avoiding, but from facing into the darkness. That true goodness comes not from untested innocence but from facing and wrestling with our darkest parts.”
I wanted to share Tirzah’s sentiment with you in part because we will have a guest speaker, Lucinda Kurtz, speaking about the Kabbalah at our service on Oct. 1st, followed by a workshop on the topic. I thought the synchronicity was poignant. I also appreciated Tirzah’s encouragement to face into the darkness. I do believe this is what is being asked of us during this time. We must face this darkness, wrestle with it, even if it means our worldview is tossed on its head. We are seeing how the decades of mistreatment of our Mother Earth is leading to pain and loss on a massive scale. We are acknowledging the suffering of many who have lost loved ones, their homes, their livelihoods, and their neighborhoods. We face all of this, we call on our resiliency to make it through this time, we show our aid to those who are suffering in any way we can, and we trust that the light will greet us on the other side. We commit to being co-creators of that light.
I encourage you to join in meditation and peaceful prayer for our world during the 24 hour Peace Generator, this weekend, Sept. 15th at 6pm- Sept 16th at 6pm, drop in any time. May all of those personally affected by tragedy today be safe, protected, and supported during this difficult time.
Hello Interfaith Family,
It has felt important to me to reach out during this difficult moment in our history. Having been out of town and mostly out of touch over the weekend, I am still wrapping my mind around a response to what occurred in Charlottesville, VA. Since hearing the news, I have felt many things: grief, anger, and pain, along with a fierce uprising of mother bear energy and a sense of hope as voices of peace rise above hate.
I was lucky enough to be in town for the vigil held at the Diag on Sunday night, which was truly a powerful event. Incredibly impactful words were shared, with an emphasis on waking up and standing up. We were reminded of, on the one hand, the unbearable costs of being silent in the face of such events and, on the other hand, the amazing power of coming together in peace. I felt truly honored to stand with other members of diverse faith traditions and the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice in denouncing the hate and calling on all of our strength to stand against it. It truly seems that even as the shadow continues to reveal itself in louder ways in our world, the light is pouring in with all its strength. People all over the nation (and around the world) are coming together to do amazing work, work that will no doubt change our world for the better.
For the past month or so I have been in conversation with the Washtenaw County Democratic Party Black Caucus about leading an event at the ICSG called Uncomfortable Conversations. It is an opportunity for people of all races to talk openly, even if uncomfortably, about race and issues of race. Having attended one of these events a few months ago, I was struck by how important it was and it now feels to be even more urgent. I look forward to bringing this work to the center; keep your eyes out for finalized details soon.
By way of recognizing that so many people around the country have spoken and written such valuable words in the last few days, I thought I’d share a few passages from wise souls that I have encountered that have given me strength, hope, and awakening.
From a black female student who spoke at the vigil (unfortunately I have been unable to find her name):
“Now I need you all to wake up. This is America. This is the America that black and brown people have told you about. It’s the America that black and brown people have fought for…America is flawed, it is violent, it is divided, it is unfair and unjust, it is racist, it is sexist, it is homophobic, classist, and so much more. But you know what, this is also America, all of us here, we are America. And this America is strong, determined, passionate, tolerant, black, it is brown, it is Spanish-speaking, it is queer, it is woman, and it is youth. This America is loving and it is forgiving and because of all of that, we are so much bigger and stronger than the fear that causes some of America to hurt instead of heal.”
From Marianne Williamson’s talk given in Charlottesville on 8/13:
“Love gives us power and love gives us two categories of power. Our power to say no and our power to say yes… for those of us dedicated to the auspices of love, we know love sometimes says NO…We have zero tolerance for violence directed at any human being and ladies and gentleman, this is the time for all of us in America to remember and to stand and to own the courage, the moral courage it takes to also say no to violence when it is institutionalized and when it appears in our midst. This is not a time for moral relativism…this is the time to take a stand and to say no.”
From Pastor John Pavlovitz:
“We are not with you, torch-bearers, in Charlottesville or anywhere. We do not consent to this. In fact, we stand against you, alongside the very beautiful diversity that you fear. We stand with people of every color and of all faiths, people of every orientation, nationality, and native tongue. We are not going to have this…your racism and your terrorism will not win the day.”
In honor of all of these wise words and all of the ways in which we will continue to stand for love, I’ll close with a message of prayer. May we find the strength to release any fears and reticence to stand against what we know is wrong. May each of us, in ways both large and small, work every day to stand fiercely in our love for our planet and our fellow beings everywhere. May we use our privilege to pave the way for others, to make way for the silenced to be heard. May we, each day, be reminded that today is the day to stand for light, love, and liberation.
With Ferocious Mother Bear Love,