Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Affecting and Upsetting

“(Evangelization) is a question not only of preaching the Gospel in ever wider geographic areas or to ever greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, (human)kind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of Salvation.”

-Pope St. Paul VI, 1975 in Evangelii Nuntiandi

My daughter Elizabeth's piggy bank shattered unexpectedly and suddenly in the fall of 2017. In an attempt to help ease her emotions following the drop, I told her I would collect the pieces and that I would work on putting it back together for her. The shattered pig sat in a box on the top of a shelf in our house, though, for the better part of a year. The task just seemed to be too big and Elizabeth did not mention its repair. "Best Dad Ever" I am not.

An unexpected Christmas wish - I want Santa to bring me my piggy bank put back together - roused and inspired me to make good on my initial promise. 

The work was slow and difficult. The bigger pieces were the easy ones. Their placement was immediately evident and their adhesion seamless. These early victories fueled much needed momentum. 

However, as the pieces shrunk, the difficulty of this task grew. Their placement was more puzzling, their adhesion more likely to result in my fingers getting cut and/or superglued to the shard or to another finger. Gaps resulted and the once smooth exterior of the pig was now rough and jagged. 

On Christmas morning, Elizabeth showed genuine surprise and appreciation. While not the version of her restored pig that she had envisioned, she was grateful to have her piggy bank back. 

To me, this long, slow, difficult, and sometimes painful work of repairing a broken ceramic is much like the work we are called to do repair the various ways in which our society is shattered. 


Equality and equity. 




As a white, middle-aged, middle class, straight, Christian, married with children, non-disabled, cisgender man, there is not an area of my life that is not in a dominant category (at least in America, which is another way that my life is incredibly privileged). 

My parents are white. They, too, fit all of the above categories. As such, my upbringing was as privileged as it could have been. We lived in a suburb of Cleveland that was predominantly white. We had access to a strong education, where the teachers in my school looked like me. The curriculum favored my life experiences. I had a plethora of extra-curricular activities from which to choose and I had the recreational time to pursue them all the way through college. I had easy and ready access to healthcare and medical services. 

My high school, a private, all-boys, Catholic high school - another example of my privilege - was one of only two aspects of my life that bucked against my white privilege. The school was not located in a white neighborhood. The student population was almost an even split between black and white. I had teachers, coaches and a principal who were black. 

The other aspect of my life that embodied this type of diversity was the school where I served as principal for seven years. Its surrounding neighborhood is richly diverse and its student population enjoyed a similar composition. 

In both instances, I experienced coded language as people talked about my schools. Do you feel safe going to school there? That's just a football school, right? The school population sure has changed since you became principal. We are leaving because we feel the education will be stronger where there are more families like us. Is there a quota on the number of students on scholarship that the school can accept? 

But, no matter how much these questions irritated and annoyed me, and despite the fact that they hardened my pride to be a part of either school, I still got to go home to my white privilege. While I believe that my life has been enhanced by these experiences, my circumstances were not improved as a result of them. Any success I've had is due in large part because the intersection of my race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, marital status and nationality has been the corner of Easy Street and the Yellow Brick Road. My life is the result of my privilege. 

Therefore, this is why it is so important that I leverage all of this privilege and do the long, slow, hard yet vital work of cultural responsiveness. This is why I must push past and own white fragility and critically self-reflect on the many ways I maintain my dominant position, the many implicit biases I hold, and the many ways that I must fight and change in order to make our world more just, equitable, fair and right. 

This is why I can't just bring in the Responsiveness Team to do this work for me. This is why I can't just ask the Diversity Expert to do the work that I must do. This is why, given my privilege and my current position, I must affect and upset others to put their own fragility aside and partner in critically looking at our intersections and working against the systemic racism that is rampant in America. 

As Pamela Nolan Young, the University of Notre Dame's Director for Academic Diversity and Inclusion, stated in a recent presentation on inclusive excellence, the work is difficult. Young remarked:
I was not feeling passionate about the work I was doing on diversity, inclusion and equity. As Fannie Lou Hamer said, "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." I'm not feeling that hopeful either; however, I do have faith. And as first Hebrews teaches us, "Faith is confidence in what we hope for, and assurance about what we do not see."...So when all seems lost, I return to my faith to restore my hope. Working for diversity, inclusion, and equity is difficult, but I have faith in God and trust in His promise for the Kingdom.
The work of responsiveness is hard, but we can do hard things.

The work of diversity, inclusion and equity is long, but that does not make it any less urgent.

The work of building the Kingdom of God here on earth will require "affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, (human)kind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of Salvation” (Pope St. Paul VI).

This work is uncomfortable, but we were not made for comfort. We were born for greatness, made for holiness and destined for sainthood.

This work is ours.

Let us begin.