As I arrived here at the Baltimore Convention Center on June 30th, I realized I’d started breathing more deeply. I was more relaxed. I felt like myself in a deeper way. It took me a full day to realize what it was – I had landed in a wonderfully diverse city, at a church gathering with people from many cultures and languages. Since moving up to Western Massachusetts, I have missed living and working amidst an urban mix of peoples, and so I felt relief at being back in a major city where more of that was immediately around me.
Here at General Synod, there was music and wonder, fast moving traffic; there were amazing historic brownstones and dazzling new skyscrapers and homeless people sleeping on the street; there were swarms of Oriole fans in orange, and light rail trains going by; there was steamy heat and early morning breezes; there were helicopters overhead and noisy restaurants and sirens blazing; there were restaurants for Afghan and South African food as well as alehouses and fast food; I heard and saw different languages all around me. There were people with a range of disabilities; there were people wearing buttons saying, “Ask me for my pronouns!” and identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and...
This Synod more than ever brought together people of difference in one place, all of us with our lime green name tags and matching tote bags! The days here gave us time to find each other in more places, and quickly moved us through issues of conscience and truth telling and making mistakes and apologizing and brokenness and some healing too. The speed of the emotions and confrontations made me more vulnerable and direct with new people and they with me. We had serious exchanges and sharing about difference through worship, keynote speakers, and resolutions that challenged us on justice issues of all kinds.
Eventually, I noticed how awkward conversational exchanges could be when we got past the committee work or worship conversation because it didn’t take long before I made mistakes, speaking ignorantly out of my privileged life as a CIS-gendered, straight, abled, middle class white woman. I felt increasingly how much I wanted to be a part of so many amazing bold and prophetic lives, and yet how few close relationships I actually have succeeded in having with such faithful people who are different from me. To think I have been a person of faith all my life, more than 50 years, believing in us all being together, working for it even, and maybe I’m only just starting to get it: how as a person with multiple points of privilege, I inadvertently collaborate with our dominant culture to keep it from happening.
It makes me wonder if in the past, all that time I thought I was living a more diverse life, was I really only living near you, my diverse neighbors, in parallel? Were we together in geography but not, actually, together in fact? If so, then I am truly, deeply grateful for the inclusive aspirations of our UCC faith, which calls us to live into a just world of wide welcome that is so much better than what I actually have been doing. So many of your speak outs and witnesses, my Synod friends of difference, have called to me this week, and I have heard you. Maybe, despite my best intentions, I’m only really hearing you for the first time.
To all my diverse partners in ministry here at Synod, I am so sorry. I thought I was doing pretty well with confronting my own bias and being open to you but as it turns out, I’ve got a really long way to go. And, I celebrate you. And, I want to do better. And, I want to have the kind of relationship with you in which you can tell me whenever I’ve done it again – been too privileged or completely screwed it up or violated your truth, thinking I understood. I want to learn what you are like, how you have been hurt along the way, and what you dream of becoming until you are truly my family and there are no more awkward exchanges, and you and I can really, truly be friends serving our God together, side by side.
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