Friday, September 30, 2016

New Thought Diversity Training Questions Diversity

Participants at Diversity workshop sponsored by Centers for Spiritual Living.
Group photos by Tracy Rymes

[September, 2016] With some trepidation I attended a diversity training offered this week by one of my spiritual communities, Centers for Spiritual Living (CSL). My own local center in Falls Church, Virginia, has experienced tension over the value of focusing on diversity vs oneness. I feared the workshop might promote one set of right answers. What I got was the opposite: an acknowledgment that privileging either diversity or oneness falls short. For me, the workshop made clear that the only way to balance these apparent opposites is via a compassion as open-hearted as it is open-minded. I can feel shifts continuing in me.
I was nervous going in because I have a foot in three communities with different views. My predominately White center of CSL in Falls Church teaches the oneness of all things behind cultural and religious differences. My predominately Black church in Fairfax takes the Bible literally and takes a bootstrappy, hands-off stance to politics. The pastor, my co-author Bishop Phil Thomas, said at a recent Bible study, "I don't care if they call you [the N word]. You need to just love them right back. Give them some living water from your well. That's what the world is thirsty for. You've got what it takes to fix this mess."  
I am also active in Integral philosophy which seeks to "transcend and include" all views. So some of my perspectives could be labeled not only politically incorrect but spiritually incorrect as well. And I'm not as mature as I'd like to be about managing the contradictions.


Eugene Holden
Last Saturday, 24 of us gathered at the Takoma Park center of CSL DC. Half the group was White, half Black. Within seconds of walking in the door, I knew I was in the right place. One of the co-facilitators,  Eugene Holden from CSL headquarters in Colorado, was joking informally with someone. Instantly I trusted him. I sensed deep spiritual grounding and a broad perspective. I already knew the other facilitator, Rev. Alex Escudero. She is senior minister at CSL DC and beloved for her compassionate embrace of all peoples. Teamed with Holden, they would create a truly safe space for all views. Indeed, they literally threw out the book on how the day was supposed to be structured. The workbook for the class as originally designed focuses on how spiritual centers can be more inclusive. They invited us to read the workbook on our own time. Instead we would have mostly open sharing.  
The facilitators invited us to share how we are feeling in this anguished season of awareness that racial injustice has not gone away. (The facilitators acknowledged the existence of a full array of diversity issues, but the day's participants and current events focused this day on race).  Eugene started by saying he was feeling anger, and under that was sadness. In fact, he said that some of his fellow diversity trainers have been asking, "Does diversity work?" I believe this opening catalyzed the expression of authentic and radically mixed feelings that followed.  


We heard about the prevalence of racial threats and slights that people of color live with. But we also heard about mixed feelings in their reactions. [We pledged confidentiality, so I received explicit permission from any individuals quoted below.]
Dr. Ray Anderson, an interfaith minister, martial arts master, and personal hero of mine, reported being called the N word from a passing car on a DC street just recently. He showed us a trembling hand to express how he felt. "I know I am divine and they are divine and we are One. But right then it was a blessing I don't have psychic powers, because I wanted to flip the car."
His close associate Tracy reported growing up in the projects of New York where some of the police were Klan members. But she also is friends with a White police officer and sympathetic to his perspective. She sometimes finds herself blaming Black people for contributing to tensions. She clutched her stomach in expressing the toxic brew of rage, embarrassment, and shame that co-exists with a spiritual awareness of Oneness.  


My heart opened as I heard these and other stories. I have been aware for a couple decades that racial injustice did not go away when I thought it did in the 60's. I know that minorities still face everything from social slights to life threatening unequal treatment. Perhaps those situations are far more pervasive than I realized, and getting worse.  
But my heart response gets sidetracked by my head response. I am a nerdy analyzer who sees at least two sides to everything. I forget to acknowledge the truth in Side One before barging on to Side Two. Having Black people in the room express mixed feelings released the pressure I felt to argue for another side. I still did so on a couple points--like when Rev. Ray said we call it "white privilege" instead of "majority privilege" because white people are responsible for most of the colonization around the world. I wish I'd said, "Yes, that's true," before saying, "But every group favors a 'we' over a 'they.'"  


Luckily, a Black woman expressed some of my contrary thoughts so I didn't have to. Her grandfather had worked hard to succeed in tougher times. Everybody has to be responsible for themselves. We attract what we project. In the long term of many incarnations, all will evolve to wholeness..
Rev Sunday Cote
At about this point, Rev. Sunday Cote of CSL Leesburg gently reminded us of the slippery slope between personal responsibility and blaming the victim. "Knowing we are One should not preclude compassion or taking action to make it better," she said. Someone mentioned spiritual bypass.
Rev. Alex Escudero
Indeed, Eugene then asked us to discuss the value of ignoring differences vs celebrating differences as a way to enhance oneness. Most of us were able to argue both sides of this key question. The tension between them expresses what we call in Integral theory a "polarity"-- two values that couldn't exist without each other. Another aspect of Integral theory tells us that we will lean toward one pole or the other at different phases in our lives. Our discussion brought home to me the waste of energy in fighting over which value is better. We must find ways to integrate them. 


At one point we went outside to do a "Privilege Walk" exercise. We lined up shoulder-to-shoulder.  Eugene called out a series of questions. For each one, we were to take a step forward or a step back. For example:

  • If your parents had to work nights and weekends while you were growing up, take one step back.
  •  If you were born in the United States, take one step forward.
At the end, I was one of the people at front. Rev. Ray was in the very back.  
Our Privelege Walk. You can see my head just above the trunk of the red car at left. Dr. Anderson is far right.

I loved the exercise. It made real and universal the concept of "White Privilege," which has otherwise sounded shaming to me. Someone pointed out that depending on who the participants are, a white person could have ended up at the back. My Integral friend David Hartful said, "Yes, but you'll rarely have a group in which Black people end up in front."
That was a major wallop moment for me -- along with another person's observation that those in back could see everyone else ahead of them. Those in front must choose to turn around and look back. Another "Aha" moment. (See video of a Privliege Walk here:  )


David Hartful
But it was David's final comment that struck me hardest of the day. David is an engineer and a self-described "nerd" who shares my fascination with Integral philosophy. ((Watch for his forthcoming blog on how approaches to racism evolve). He reports numbing himself to comments from Blacks that he "acted white" by studying hard in college, reading voraciously, and getting a good job. In our final round of comments he said, "It was good to be here because so many White people came. I didn't know any White people cared."
Suddenly I realized how wrong I am to take for granted that people know I care. (My husband Andy will tell you I make the same mistake with him). Here I am impatient to say, "Come on team, let's pull together." But I don't make time to express my sadness and dismay at the slights and injustices some team members endure--and my willingness to do whatever I can about it. For that I am sorry. I'm not sure how best to make up for it. But I did ask several people afterward to tell me about their personal experiences with racism. It seemed like a start.*


The final round asked each person to share what they wanted to do to make things better. The room was long on enthusiasm, though short on specifics. I said I'll work to be more mindful of not being part of the problem. I felt a bonding with everyone there and didn't want to leave.


One last power moment I want to share. Rev. Alex is from Colombia in South America. She mentioned her own mixed feelings about identity. She is adopting the term Latinx over the gender-based Latina or Latino. She showed us a video that tied together the cultural and spiritual themes of the day. It features Jerry Tello, a Mexican American who is internationally recognized as an advisor on gang prevention and family healing. He recounts the impact of having a grandmother that prayed for him, letting him know he was loved and cared for by a lineage of ancestors. I was deeply moved and heard several sniffles in the room. It provided one more level of support for those of us who believe that regular spiritual practice is one way we can help. Check it out below.


A Black friend suggested follow-up readings for me. The authors advise against asking people of color to share their experiences of racism because it is too painful to do so. Instead I should do research via reading, they said.  
The authors tell White people to speak up for justice and to step in when we witness instances of bias. I can recall three such instances in my life. Once I sat frozen while another White person stood up against the insult. Once I spoke out. And the third time, which was just this week, I used body language to convey support to the Black person. I will pray to be more alert to such instances and to be guided for right action.  
Part of what gets in my way is complexity: that many apparent fixes bring new problems. And there is so much suffering in the world. I have to trust Spirit to focus my efforts where they can do the most good -- after I've done my homework.
Spirit may have nudged me two weeks ago.
I was at a crowded Dunkin Donuts where a couple I took to be Sudanese were arguing at a table behind me. The man threw a cup of hot coffee on the woman. Then he seemed to be either blocking her exit or trying to get her to come with him. I jumped in between them, gave him the evil eye, and asked her if she needed assistance. He left as she called the police. Later she said to me, "I don't need to stay with him and his wife. I can get my own place." Dear God, I thought, is this a case of domestic slavery?  
This incident quickened my own impatient thought of, "We all better find a way to cope with our own obstacles, cause we've got big stuff to work on together in the world."


  1. Loved the Jerry Tello video! Thank you Teri for this "meaty" report. I am filled with pondering(s).
    I remember being taught to be "color-blind", which meant to me that all people were equal. Now I realize how that blinded me to actual issues.

  2. CORRECTION: I neglected to indicate the title "Rev" for both Rev. Eugene Holden and Rev. Dr. Raymont Anderson. Both are ordained ministers in contexts other than CSL.

  3. Your insights are inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

    Goethe said, "Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean." So thanks, also for your willingness to learn and grow.

  4. Thanks, Tracy. It's good hearing from you and getting another reality check. I know perspectives can be so different around this topic. --

    1. Also Tracy, I want to acknowledge the great work you are doing in education around these issues within CSL.

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