I remember a few years ago on a Quaker Workcamp, we were having a conversation about the various colleges that the students on the program were considering attending. One of the young folks mentioned that he would probably go to a prestigious university because his family had a long list of graduates from that school (siblings, parents, grandparents) , even though he might not otherwise have qualified for that university. The conversation turned to the paradox of wanting to work for equality but, at the same time, being a product of and beneficiary of privilege. "Do you think I should not go to that school if I get accepted?", asked the young man. After a moment of reflection, I said that, no, you should not turn down that acceptance but to, instead, commit to trying to balance the equation when in a position of taking action. For example, I mentioned that, when buying a car, perhaps buying a slightly lower costing car, and put that extra money towards a scholarship to support someone else or, if in a position of hiring someone, rather than hiring the candidate with the best education or best suit, consider the one who journeyed the longest to get to the interview.
So as I was recently attending a church service at National Community Church, I listened to Dr. David Anderson giving a powerful sermon about "Gracism" (as the spirit-led counterbalance to "Racism" that he defines as "to think, feel, or act negatively of others because of color, class or culture"). One of his seven points to practicing gracism is "I will consider you." His example was to recognize that a car dealer may offer a better deal to a man than a woman, and we act with grace by doing what we can to correct this by sharing with you my benefits. I think it is essentially what I was trying to articulate on that Workcamp. I also think it would be a great lesson for so many of the private schools we work with - rather than shame privilege, have the conversation about how we can effectively share that privilege with those who do not have it. As Dr. Anderson has listed it, this is identified as "Having Equal Concern".
It is sermons like this that I find amazingly inspirational and challenging. Even though I hear these kinds of sermons at places like NCC, they are what lead me to Quakerism. To practice Gracism is to see that of God in all and truly live that out. Of course, as a gay man, knowing that the founder of this church has been, to put it mildly, less than affirming about gay marriage (sending out the double-message that being gay is a sin, but we are called to be loving, as if my higher purpose is to be straight, as he did on the Kojo Nnamdi Show last year), and "sexual identity and orientation" is glaringly missing in the definition of racism, I cannot go all in here. I think the silence about sexual orientation can perhaps do much harm by continuing exclude truly all people. But having said that, I know that if places like NCC want to truly practice gracism, I'm in for that, knowing that I can still let my life speak and find true joy in the relationships I have formed there, and in that, find more ways to bring that grace to what we strive to bring in our William Penn Quaker Workcamps. Sometimes, being open with the messiness (or 'living in the tension', as if often expressed) really seems to be where life happens.
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