Protecting and Also Bridging Differences

Justice: Week 1

Protecting and Also Bridging Differences
Monday, June 11, 2018

As we saw earlier this year, humans need concrete and particular experiences to learn the ways of love. [1] We don’t learn to love through abstract philosophy or theology. That’s why Jesus came to show God in human form, revealing a face we could recognize and relate to. Let’s first call justice giving everything its full due. Thus, it must begin with somehow seeing the divine (ultimate value) in the other. If we really see someone in their fullness, we cannot help but treat them with kindness and compassion.

Even as we know that every human’s being is inherently and equally good, dignified, and worthy of respect, we cannot ignore our very real differences. The problem is that the ego likes to assign lesser and greater value based on differences. Until all people everywhere are treated with dignity and respect, we must continue calling attention to imbalances of privilege and power. Arbitrary, artificial hierarchies and discrimination are based on a variety of differences: for example, gender, sexuality, class, skin color, education, physical or mental ability, attractiveness, accent, language, religion, and so on.

“Intersectionality” is a rather new concept for most of us to help explain how these attributes overlap. You can be privileged in some areas and not in others. A poor white man has more opportunities for advancement than a poor black man. [2] A transgender woman of color has an even higher risk of being assaulted than a white heterosexual woman. [3] Someone without a disability has an easier time finding a job than an equally qualified candidate who has a disability.

Pause for a moment and think about the areas in which you benefit, not because of anything you’ve done or deserve but simply because of what body you were born with, what class privilege you enjoy, what country or ethnicity you find yourself in.

In the book Intersectionality in Action, experienced educators recognize that “admitting one’s privilege can be very difficult,” especially for those who consider themselves tolerant and prefer to not use labels, “calling themselves color-blind, for instance.” [4] When we finally recognize our unearned benefits—at the expense of others—we may feel ashamed and that may lead us to make excuses for ourselves or overly identify with a less privileged aspect of our identity (for example as Jewish or female). Yet as we move beyond these attachments and emotions, “[We] learn that [our] privileges and disadvantages can coexist, intersect, and impact the way [we] move through different environments.” [5]

We must work to dismantle systems of oppression while at the same time honoring our differences and celebrating our oneness! This takes a great deal of spiritual maturity. Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, not the denial of them. Our differences must first be maintained—and then overcome by the power of love (exactly as in the three persons of the Trinity). We must distinguish and separate things before we can spiritually unite them, usually at cost to ourselves, especially if we are privileged (see Ephesians 2:14-16).

God is a mystery of relationship, and the truest relationship is love. Infinite Love preserves unique truths, protecting boundaries while simultaneously bridging them.

References:
[1] See Richard Rohr, “Thisness,” https://cac.org/thisness-weekly-summary-2018-03-24/.

[2] See Emily Badger, Claire Cain Miller, Adam Pearce, and Kevin Quealy, “Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys,” The New York Times, March 19, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/03/19/upshot/race-class-white-and-black-men.html.

[3] See https://www.ovc.gov/pubs/forge/sexual_numbers.html.

[4] Amy Howard, Juliette Landphair, and Amanda Lineberry, “Bringing Life to Learning,” Intersectionality in Action: A Guide for Faculty and Campus Leaders for Creating Inclusive Classrooms and Institutions, Brooke Barnett and Peter Felten, eds. (Stylus Publishing: 2016), 92.

[5] Ibid., 93.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “The Perennial Tradition,” Oneing, vol. 1, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013, out of print), 12-13.

Image credit: Memorial Corridor at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (detail), Montgomery, Alabama (800 six-feet-tall hanging steel monuments, one for each county where a lynching took place, with the names of the victims engraved on them).
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
Our nation’s history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the American landscape. This shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatized people of color, and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and to equal justice. —Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director, The Equal Justice Initiative

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